You probably see the three major trademark symbols everywhere, but do you know what they mean? The ®, ™, and ℠ symbols might seem familiar, but each mark has a different use and affords different legal protections.

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.

TMSymbol

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 until you acquire a federal trademark registration.

SMSymbol

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.

RegisteredTM

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.