Updated: Oct 1, 2018
A trademark/service mark is a distinctive mark (word, symbol, packaging) that identifies goods produced or services provided by a business. Its origin dates back to craftsmen who placed their signatures, or “marks”, on their products. A trademark aids consumers in identifying products or services associated with producers or suppliers they value.
Trademark protection safeguards an owner’s exclusive right to use the mark to identify their goods or services. The period of protection varies, but a trademark can be renewed indefinitely. Trademark protection is legally enforced by courts that have the authority to stop trademark infringement.
The ®, ™, and ℠ symbols associated with a mark each have a different use and afford different legal protections.
Trademark Symbol, ™,
The trademark symbol, ™, is used to claim trademark rights to a particular name, logo or slogan in connection with the sale of products. When a new line of products is created and the associated trademark has yet to be registered, the ™ symbol can be used next to the mark. Use of the ™ in connection with a trademark does not grant the business any additional trademark rights. Only applying for and obtaining a trademark can do that. A business can, however, use the ™ symbol even if they have not yet applied for a trademark on the name. Think of it as a placeholder until a registered federal trademark is acquired.
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. A service business, will often place the ℠ next their business name in advertising and promotions. The same legal status applies to the service mark symbol as the trademark symbol. It does not grant the business any additional legal rights, and the business does not need to have applied for a service mark to use it.
Trademark Registration Symbol, ®
The trademark registration symbol, ®, denotes a federally registered trademark. Under federal law, a business may not use this symbol unless they have acquired a federal trademark registration. Once the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) notifies the business that its trademark registration application has been approved and registered, the business can append the ® symbol to the trademarked name, logo or slogan. The business can use the ® symbol only in connection with the goods and services listed in the federal registration, and the business can only use it while the trademark is active. Federal registration has several advantages, including notice to the public of the registrant's claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services set forth in the registration.