The Trademark Symbols and What They Mean

You probably see the three major trademark symbols everywhere, but do you know what they mean? The ®, ™, and ℠ symbols might seem familiar, you likely seem them in superscript all the time. But the "TM symbol", "SM symbol" and "R symbol" have different uses and afford different legal protections to intellectual property.

You might also want to know which mark you can currently use for your business. Use of these symbols is optional, but there are certain guidelines for each. Inappropriate usage can leave you and your business exposed to legal issues, so make sure you learn what they mean before using them next to something like your company name.

The Trademark Symbol

TM Symbol

The trademark symbol, ™, does not denote a registered trademark. Instead, it is used when you wish to claim trademark rights to a particular name, logo or slogan in connection with the sale of products. If you created a new line of breakfast cereal and didn’t yet have a registered trademark on the name, you could apply the ™ symbol next to the name of the cereal.

Use of the trademark symbol does not grant you any additional trademark rights. Only applying for and obtaining a trademark can do that. You can, however, use the ™ symbol even if you have not yet applied for a trademark on the name. Think of it as a placeholder on unregistered trademarks until you acquire a federal registration.

The Service Mark Symbol


The service mark symbol, ℠, is essentially the same as the trademark symbol. The key difference is that service marks are applied to service businesses where trademarks are applied to products. If you owned a plumbing business, you could place the ℠ next to your business name in advertising and promotions.

The same legal status applies to the service mark symbol as the trademark symbol. It does not grant you any additional legal rights, and you do not need to have applied for a service mark in order to use it.

The Registered Trademark Symbol


The trademark registration symbol, ®, denotes a federally registered trademark. Under federal law, you may not use this symbol unless you have acquired a federal trademark registration. Once the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) notifies you that your trademark registration application has been approved and registered, you can append the ® symbol to the trademarked name, logo or slogan. You can use the ® symbol only in connection with the goods and services listed in the federal registration, and you can only use it while the trademark is active.

Further Reading

You may also be interested in these guides:

FAQs about Trademark Symbols

The ™ symbol is used to claim trademark rights for a name, logo, or slogan related to the sale of products. It does not indicate that the trademark is federally registered.

No, the ℠ symbol is specifically used for service businesses to claim rights to a name, logo, or slogan in advertising and promotions.

You can use the ® symbol only after your trademark has been federally registered and approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

No, using the ™ or ℠ symbols does not grant you any additional legal rights. They serve as placeholders until you obtain federal registration.

Ready to Become a Trademark Owner?

Now that you understand the differences between the various symbols, you may be ready to register your trademark and start on the path to using ® next to your name or logo. The video below breaks down the process we'll use to help you get your unregistered marks the full legal trademark protection they need.

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Xavier Morales, Esq.

About the Author:

Xavier Morales, Esq.

Mr. Morales founded this trademark law practice in January 2007 with the goal of providing intellectual property expertise to entrepreneurs and businesses around the country. Since then, he has filed more than 6,000 trademarks with the USPTO. You can learn more about Xavier here.

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