What Does the TM Symbol Mean?

The TM symbol means "trademark" and is used to notify the public about a trademark's legal rights.

A TM can also be used alongside an unregistered mark to inform would-be infringers that a slogan, phrase, term, or logo is already claimed as a trademark.

You do not need to file any official documents to use the TM symbol, and using it does not mean an owner's trademark is protected under trademark laws. Still, it's a good idea to use the TM symbol if a trademark registration is initially refused. However, unregistered trademarks cannot be associated with the R symbol.

In the United States, using the TM symbol alongside the R symbol can result in penalties from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

An Overview of the Different Trademark Symbols

There are three frequently used trademark symbols:

  • TM

  • SM

  • ® (the letter 'R' surrounded by a circle)

Anyone who uses a trademark symbol should be aware of the following:

  • The correct symbol to use

  • Why trademark symbols are used

  • Where the symbols should be placed

  • How to insert a trademark symbol into a document

Both the TM and SM symbols are designated for unregistered marks:

  • TM for trademarks

  • SM for service marks

In some cases, a trademark might consist of both goods and services, and therefore a TM symbol is recommended.

The ® symbol is a federal registration mark reserved for trademarks registered through the USPTO.

What Does the SM Symbol Mean?

The SM symbol is similar to the TM symbol in that it provides a notice of common-law rights in a trademark. Unlike the TM symbol, however, the SM is a service-related mark. As such, it covers services such as legal and banking services rather than products.

What Does ® Mean?

The ® symbol indicates registered ownership of a trademark, and is in many countries around the world, to notify the public that the trademark or service is legally protected.

You are only allowed to use the symbol if your mark is federally registered. As such, the ® cannot be used while your trademark application is pending.

Using the legally binding symbol gives trademark owners more protection in court. Simply put, no infringer can claim ignorance so long as the registration symbol is used in accordance with the law.

How to Use the TM, SM, or ® Symbols

When placing your trademark on a document, advertisement, or product, be sure to situate it prominently so it's easily noticed. The goal isn't to hide the mark, but to notify any competitors of your trademark claim.

The correct symbol should be placed in a subtle superscript in a trademark's upper right-hand corner. If this isn't an aesthetically pleasing solution, you can choose to drop it to the lower right-hand corner.

Even though placement is not legally regulated, the symbol should never be placed to the left, below, or above a mark.

To make your trademark look different from competitor's marks, try incorporating the symbol into the existing words, using the mark as an adjective.

In text and other documents, despite there not being a specific requirement, these symbols are most often placed next to the trademark in the upper right-hand corner, and typically in a raised superscript font. For example, Coca-Cola® features the trademark name and the appropriate symbol in the upper right-hand corner above the mark.

For press releases, company reports, promotional materials, and articles, the TM, SM or ® symbol should only appear at the first mention of a trademark. You can also choose to place the symbol with the most prominent occurrence of the trademark.

Every computer word processor features an insert symbol function, although it may be called a "special character" function, in the Insert or Edit menu. Using these functions, you find all types of symbols, including the ® and TM symbols.

Many people assume that every instance of a trademark should bear the trademark symbol, but this is a common misconception. Overusing a trademark symbol only clutters the page or product, and can detract from its visual appeal. Because of this, you should be mindful of your symbol placements.

As long as there is at least one prominent use of the TM, SM, or ® symbol on the first page or face of a writing, it is perfectly acceptable to remove any additional marks.

If you need help with the TM symbol, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.