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Trademark Guides

Trademark Symbols

How Do Trademark Symbols Work?

Joshua Julien Brouard

Joshua Julien Brouard

13 November 20233 min read

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trademark symbols

In the vast and competitive landscape of business:

Trademark symbols are fundamental tools for safeguarding a brand's identity and integrity. Each symbol, be it the “circle r” ™, or others, carries distinct connotations and legal implications.

In this article, I:

  • Explore precisely how trademark symbols work.
  • Explain why there are so many variations.
  • Touch on the utility of symbols for unregistered trademarks.

Let's get started!

Why is there so much variation in how companies use the various trademark symbols?

It's not a one-size-fits-all approach.

We can attribute the variation in how different companies use trademark symbols to:

  • Legal requirements
  • Branding choices
  • Cultural and regional norms
  • Risk management strategies
  • Industry practices

Branding and style guidelines also play a significant role. Companies may choose to use these symbols to create a particular image or perception.

Now that we've explored why there's so much variation let's take a look at some of the most common IP and trademark symbols: 

1. The trademark symbol (™): Beyond merely being a symbol, ™ embodies a business's intent to associate a particular mark with their identity. While it signals the aim to register a trademark, it lacks legal grounding in protecting the user against infringement or unauthorized use.

2. The registered symbol (“r inside a circle”) (®): The ® symbol signifies the pinnacle of brand protection. It denotes a legally registered trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Unlike the ™ symbol, the ® symbol holds substantial legal weight. It cannot be utilized without formal trademark registration.

3. The service mark symbol (℠):, Like the ™ symbol, ℠ is utilized to designate a service mark. But it doesn't carry the same legal authority as a registered trademark. It serves to identify the source of a service without conferring legal protection to the user.

4. The copyright symbol (©): © signifies the ownership of a work and is used to provide a copyright notice. While its use is optional for works created after a specific date, for earlier creations, it generally serves as a required marker of ownership.

5. The phonorecord symbol (℗): ℗ differentiates the copyright aspect associated with audio recordings. But it excludes sounds from audiovisual works.

Unregistered trademark vs. registered trademark: utility of symbols for unregistered trademarks 

Symbols for unregistered trademarks, such as the ™ symbol, are helpful when a company wants to assert its claim to certain branding elements, logos, or product names as proprietary even though they haven't obtained formal registration from the relevant trademark authorities.

These symbols serve as a notice to the public and potential competitors that:

The company considers these marks its intellectual property and is taking steps to protect them.

They can be particularly valuable during the early stages of brand development when:

a. A company is in the process of securing formal trademark registration.

b. When the registration process is not possible or cost-effective.

Using the ™ symbol can help deter others from using a similar mark. It may also provide some legal basis for enforcement in cases of trademark disputes.

Choosing the appropriate trademark symbol for your business

Understanding the nuances and distinctions between these symbols is paramount for your business strategy. 

Want to know when to use “tm or r”?

Utilizing the ™ symbol doesn't grant legal protection. In contrast, registering a trademark with ® provides substantial legal advantages. This includes protection against infringement and the ability to issue cease and desist letters.

While ™ aids in establishing recognition, particularly for descriptive marks:

 It doesn't offer the robust protection provided by a registered trademark.

Steps to register your trademark

I don’t think Starbucks regrets registering their trademark!

Registering a trademark involves the process of application and approval through the Trademark Office (USPTO).

During this process:

Providing necessary documentation showcasing the intended commercial use of the trademark is crucial. 

The preparation of these documents beforehand significantly impacts the efficiency of the registration process.

Before finalizing your application, it's advisable to conduct a trademark registry search. This is to avoid any similarities with existing registered trademarks.

This step ensures your trademark doesn't inadvertently resemble any pre-existing marks.

Getting in touch with one of our trademark attorneys can make the process much easier. We've got the expertise and experience needed to ensure a smooth trademark registration process.

Need help with your mark? We've got you covered in our guide to choosing a good trademark.


What are the rules for using trademark symbols?

The primary symbols used for trademarks are ™ for unregistered marks and ® for registered trademarks. The rules dictate that the ™ symbol can be used to indicate that a word, phrase, symbol, or logo is being claimed as a trademark. That is, even if it's not federally registered. 


On the other hand, the ® symbol is reserved for trademarks that have been officially registered with the Trademark Office.

How do I know which trademark symbol to use?

If your trademark is registered, you should use the ® symbol to indicate its registered status. But if your trademark is not yet officially registered, but you intend to claim rights to it, you can use the ™ symbol. It's essential to use the appropriate symbol that corresponds to the legal status of your trademark.

Can I put ™ on my logo without registering?

Yes, you can use the ™ symbol on your logo or any mark to indicate that you're claiming rights to it as a trademark, even if it's not officially registered. It serves as a notice to the public that you're using that particular word, symbol, or logo as a trademark. 


But it's important to note that the ™ symbol doesn't provide the same level of legal protection as a registered trademark would. Registration offers more substantial legal rights and nationwide protection. This provides advantages in legal disputes and infringement claims.

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Joshua J. Brouard brings a rich and varied background to his writing endeavors. With a bachelor of commerce degree and a major in law, he possesses an affinity for tackling business-related challenges. His first writing position at a startup proved instrumental in cultivating his robust business acumen, given his integral role in steering the company's expansion. Complementing this is his extensive track record of producing content across diverse domains for various digital marketing agencies.