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

What Does the TM Symbol Mean?

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

The registered symbol is used exclusively in association with the registered trademark or service mark. The symbol may only be used when it is properly registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and it will only be devoted to services and/or goods that are referenced in the registration application. Prior to being approved, the registered symbol may not be used by the applicant. In other words, until the USPTO has approved the application, the registration symbol may not be used.

In the U.S., the use of the registered trademark indicates to viewers that the trademark has been officially registered with the USPTO. Registering a trademark provides the registrant (and only the registrant) with the right to use the trademark. No other party may use the registrant's trademark without consent. Any party that does infringe on the registrant's trademark may be sued by the registrant and could be required to pay financial damages.

Unregistered parties that attempt to use the registered trademark symbol without the approval of the USPTO may have allegations of fraud brought against them if the party:

  • Demonstrates intent
  • Willfully and knowingly misuses a trademark
  • Attempts to mislead or deceive consumers
  • Goes out of their way to prevent a registered party from obtaining or enforcing its trademark rights

In some cases, a trademark may be more difficult or expensive to register. For example, consider if your trademark is a diagram, symbol, or sound mark. The trademark becomes more descriptive and arbitrary and is no longer based on just a simple word.

Although you are not legally required to use a trademark symbol, failure to appropriately utilize it may cause unfortunate consequences, such as unnecessary financial and legal burdens. Unless it can be proven that a defendant had knowledge of your trademark‘s registration and was purposely infringing on your rights, you will lose your right to obtain monetary damages in an enforcement action.

Trademark law protects owners by stating if a registration symbol is properly displayed. Anyone infringing on your right would be at fault because they should have known the mark was already registered. Claiming ignorance will not hold up in court. Basically, if you are properly using your trademark symbol, then you will be protected legally.

What Does a Trademark Protect?

A trademark protects a good or service offered by a company from infringement or damage to reputation by another company. With a trademark, you have legal recourse to sue another company that uses your likeness to further its own business ventures. This includes both registered and unregistered trademarks.

In short, a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, design, or combination that helps consumers identify a particular product. A service mark is the same but pertains to a service instead of goods. Both marks are protected once they are used. This includes both registered and unregistered trademarks.

In 1995, the landmark case of Qualitex Co. v. Jacobsen Products Co. affirmed that trademarks aid in a customer's shopping habits. By using a sole trademark, the producer reaps the sole benefit of sales, while the consumer is satisfied. Trademarks also protect four categories, including:

  1. Generic trademarks
  2. Descriptive trademarks
  3. Suggestive trademarks
  4. Arbitrary trademarks or fanciful trademarks

Once you've decided on a name or symbol, it's important to see if any other brand is using your planned trademark nationally, regionally, or locally.

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. It is important not to claim a trademark or use the registered trademark symbol unless the registration has been properly completed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. To clarify, only trademarks that have been appropriately filed, approved, and granted a certificate of registration have the right to be claimed in the United States.

What Are the 3 Placement Techniques for Trademarks?

There are no rules about the placement of trademark symbols. However, most trademark holders place the symbols in one of three positions:

  1. The upper right-hand corner of a mark
  2. The lower right-hand corner of a mark
  3. Level with the mark

It's uncommon and not advisable to place the trademark symbol below, above, or left of your mark. Placing your trademark symbol in a prominent and expected place helps people notice it. You can further set trademarked text apart by writing it in bold, italics, uppercase letters, or even a different typeface.

In documents like company reports or press releases, the trademark symbol is traditionally written directly after the mark and without a space. Some people write trademark symbols after the first or most noticeable mention of the mark, while others prefer to use the symbols after every incident. This can create unnecessary clutter, though, and may detract from the look of your piece. It may also make it harder to read.

Another alternative is using *(asterisk) or †(dagger) or ‡(double dagger) symbols near the first use of the trademark, then detailing the trademark in a footnote. Two examples are: " † NIKE and the swoosh logo are trademarks registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office" and "NIKE and the swoosh logo. Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off. " You could use bold, italics, uppercase letters, or a different type to show trademarks, then explain them in a footnote. All footnotes for registered trademarks must refer to the registration as above.

A footnote for a common law trademark might look something like this: " † The crown logo is a trademark of MyCompany, Inc." You should always use the trademark symbol, or a placeholder for it, with the first instance of the mark. The first page of each written document should have at least one obvious use of the trademark symbol. Businesses commonly list the trademark holder and all trademarks used on a website or printed document at the bottom of the site or page. While trademarks should be noticeable, the ® symbol is typically printed in superscript and smaller type than the mark, just as the ™ symbol always is. This helps the symbol stand out without dominating a design.

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, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.