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TM vs. R – What’s the Difference?

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When indicating that a word, phrase, design, or image is a trademark, businesses typically include a special character symbol. This is usually the small, raised “TM” (shown as ™) or the small, raised “R” in a circle (shown as ®). TM can be used for any trademark whereas R can only be used by federally registered trademarks.

In this article, we'll cover:

Understanding TM vs. R

Using a trademark symbol is a shorthand to customers, competitors, and others that let’s them know a particular trademark is connected to a particular good and/or service. This can help boost your business’ credibility, ward off potential infringement, and helps establish the mark in commerce, regardless of if it’s registered or unregistered.

    • Unregistered trademarks use TM. These trademarks include common law trademarks and state-registered trademarks. Because they are not federally registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), they can only use the unregistered trademark symbol.
    • Registered trademarks use R. When discussing which trademark symbol to use, registered trademarks only refer to marks registered with the USPTO. Even if you are in the process of applying for a federally registered trademark, you must use the unregistered mark symbol until your application has been formally and officially approved.

Differences Between Trademark Symbols

The main difference between the trademark symbols is when you can use them: if your mark is federally registered or if it is not.

Regardless of which symbol you’re using, there are great benefits to using a symbol when marketing and referencing your trademark. Below, we’ll go over some of the important differences when using a registered or an unregistered trademark symbol.

Registered Trademark Symbol

Excluding certain foreign trademarks, USPTO-registered trademarks are the only marks allowed to use the coveted R in a circle (®) in the U.S. This is one advantage of applying for a federal trademark. Not only do you have greater trademark protections across the entire U.S. and its territories, but you immediately set yourself away from the crowd.

Courts tend to favor registered marks in trademark infringement cases in part because there is an assumption of awareness. Businesses are often presumed to have had reasonable opportunity to see that a registered mark was taken, both because of its record in the USPTO search database, TESS, and use of the ® symbol itself. In cases of likelihood of confusion involving common law trademarks, registered marks that appropriately (and frequently) use the registered symbol often have a leg up.

  • ® Pro: Since R is exclusive, consumers might respond more positively to your branding and consider you more professional than other businesses that are not able to use the symbol.
  • ® Con: Because the registered trademark symbol requires UPSTO registration, it is more expensive to use this mark than it is an unregistered trademark.

Do you want to use the registered trademark symbol for your currently unregistered mark? Sign up for our Trademark Service today and we’ll get the USPTO-registration process started.

Unregistered Trademark Symbols

In general, unregistered trademark symbols use the small TM (™) to demonstrate to customers and competitors that their mark is their own and has common law trademark rights. However, there are actually two trademark symbols that unregistered trademarks can use:

  • TM: for unregistered marks that are connected to goods, such as toiletries, books, and clothing items
  • SM: for unregistered marks that are connected to services, such as accounting, tutoring, and cleaning work

SM (service mark) is often used interchangeably with TM (trademark) both when using symbols and when discussing trademarks.

  • ™ Pro: Since TM/SM is for unregistered marks, including common law marks, there are no associated fees, now or later, to use the unregistered trademark symbol in commerce.
  • ™ Con: Since common law trademark rights have geographical limits, the use of the unregistered trademark symbol will only get you so far in terms of protection under trademark law.

Can’t remember the difference between trademark goods and services? Make sure to know what your mark is referencing prior to using it in commerce.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I write the trademark symbols?

Both trademark symbols and the service mark symbol are typically written after the word or phrase in the upper right-hand corner. For example, Google® or Evan’s Evangelical Eatery™. Technically, the symbols can be in the bottom right-hand corner as well. This is especially common for design marks when it would look unappealing in the upper corner. The trademark symbols should never be on the left, above, or below the mark.

What happens if I use ® when I am not registered with the USPTO?

There are big consequences for using the registered trademark symbol when it doesn’t apply to your mark, including but not limited to cancellation of pending USPTO applications, charges of fraudulent advertising, and financial penalties if infringement is involved.

Do I have to use the trademark symbol?

No. Trademark symbols are technically optional. However, using a trademark symbol offers many benefits and few to no disadvantages.

What if I don’t want to use a trademark symbol?

If you want the benefits of using a trademark symbol but really want to avoid actually using them, there is another option: writing out your ownership. This only works for registered trademarks.

For example, writing “The Papa John’s logo is a registered trademark of Papa John’s International, Inc.” or “The Papa John’s logo is a trademark registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office” indicates registration just like using ®.

Can I common law claim a trademark that has been abandoned?

Trademark abandonment is tricky. Generally, a trademark is considered abandoned if it has not been used in commerce for over three years, and the owner doesn’t intend to resume use. If a federal trademark is not renewed, this can lead to abandonment as well. However, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s up for grabs. It’s a good idea to consult a trademark attorney if the mark you want to use appears to be abandoned.

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