Trademark and Copyright Symbols: What are they? When can and should you use them?

You’ve seen the symbols – ®, TM, SM, © – but you aren’t quite sure what they mean or when to use them. Here’s a primer.

® – The Registered Trademark Symbol

The ® symbol (an “R” inside a circle) is reserved in the U.S. for any mark that has been registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

TM – The Trademark Symbol

The TM symbol is used to signal a claim of unregistered trademark rights in a word, phrase, logo, or symbol used on or with goods – i.e., to indicate that the owner is using that word, phrase, logo, or symbol as a trademark to identify it as the source of the associated goods in the marketplace.

SM – The Service Mark Symbol

The SM symbol is the counterpart to the TM symbol but applies to marks used in connection with services, as opposed to goods. For example, banking, insurance, and retail store services.

© – The Copyright Symbol

The © symbol (a “C” in a circle) indicates copyright protection in a particular work. Copyright and trademark are distinct forms of intellectual property rights. Trademarks identify the source of goods and services, and copyrights protect original creative works.

When and How to Use These Symbols – Best Practices

Using these symbols isn’t required, but it is beneficial because it communicates to others that you are claiming rights in the thing with which you are using the symbol. This can help deter trademark and copyright infringement. Using the appropriate symbols for trademarks can also help you build recognition for your mark and indicates to consumers that your products or services are genuine.

Best practices to follow:

Always use the correct symbol for the type of protection you are claiming – i.e., the appropriate trademark symbol for your trademarks and the copyright symbol for your works of authorship. (FYI – Using the ® symbol without a trademark registration can get you into legal trouble.)

Ensure the symbols are displayed clearly and conspicuously. For trademarks, the symbol should be as close to the mark as possible. Typically, the symbols are placed in the upper right-hand corner, lower right-hand corner, or level with the mark and are displayed in superscript or subscript smaller than the trademark itself—for example, NIKE® or Bob’s Best BuildsSM. For copyrights, the © symbol is typically followed by the name of the copyright owner and the year of first publication. For example, © 2023 My Company, LLC placed at the bottom of a website.

Use these symbols consistently to establish a strong position in asserting your rights, but you don’t have to overuse them. They don’t have to appear repeatedly in or on a copyrighted work, and you don’t have to use them every time your trademark is displayed.

When in doubt about how to use them correctly and consistently, seek legal advice! A trademark and copyright attorney can help you figure out exactly when and how you should use these symbols.

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