The Difference Between ® and ™ and Why It Matters for Your Product

A person’s hand holding a stamp with the word “trademark” printed on its side.

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Intellectual Property (IP) is all about protecting your products. A simple way to do this is by trademarking your products. The trademark symbol, ™, and the registered trademark symbol, ®, indicate trademark rights exist in a mark. However, recognizing the distinctions between them is critical, so you’ll want to learn about IP Law as a business owner before trademarking your goods.

Intellectual Property (IP) Law is a core part of any business. It covers anything that can be trademarked, such as products, logos, and slogans. Therefore, IP Law includes trademark law, patent law, and copyright law.

Without IP laws, other retailers may sell the same items you already possess to their clients if they have access to your product and brand names. Therefore, trademarking is one of the most essential steps in starting a business. Trademarking should continue to be a priority as you continue to release products before other businesses do so before you. 

What Does ® Mean? 

The symbol ® denotes a registered trademark. This means trademark holders have to take a few extra steps to trademark their product. Essentially, trademark rights and protections arise from using a trademarked image or phrase with “good faith.” 

However, you have to register your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to be enforceable. That is, if someone uses your trademark without your permission, you could potentially sue them for trademark infringement. As a result, the ® sign should only be used with valid trademarks or service marks to avoid running into trademark and copyright infringement problems.

You may have encountered this symbol before, as registered trademark symbols appear next to the names of many popular products like Coca-Cola®, Apple®, and KFC®.

What Does ™ Mean?

The trademark symbol ™ denotes common law trademark rights. Unlike trademark law, common law trademark rights are not registered with the USPTO. This means trademark infringers can’t be sued by trademark owners even if they have trademarked their product. Therefore, this symbol should only be used for unregistered trademarks.

The symbol is widely recognized, next to brand logos such as Nintendo Switch™ and McAfee™.

The ™ symbol is for anybody or any company to indicate a particular word, phrase, or logo meant to serve as an identifier of that product or service source. Many businesses will utilize the™ symbol early on for new goods and services before and throughout the trademark application procedure.

® vs. ™: What’s the Difference?

If you have a trademarked product or service you plan to sell; you should know the difference between the ® and ™ symbols. Both trademarks can help protect your products and services, but trademark registration can offer trademark protections beyond those of trademark use.

There may be some confusion between these two symbols since some may use them interchangeably. However, they convey entirely different meanings. Ultimately, the ™ symbol means a mark is being used as a trademark to indicate the source of the products. Though it is generally used for not federally registered marks, sometimes it is used for those that are.

The ™ could indicate

  • The federal trademark application has been filed and is now pending;
  • A state application has been submitted and was either accepted or is still pending.
  • The trademark was not filed either at the federal or state level, but this mark is used to distinguish goods.

Even if the trademark has not been federally registered, the owner of the mark has common law rights

The ® symbol indicates that the symbol has been registered, and the trademark is secure. You may use the ® symbol once your trademark has been registered by the proper authority and published in the Trademark Registry

It’s also worth noting that the ® sign cannot be used for unregistered trademarks. This is because the ® sign, in particular, has more stringent laws and more significant legal implications. On the other hand, a trademark’s registration on Principal Register provides complete federal trademark protection. A registered trademark also gives you rights throughout the United States and allows you to expand your operations across state lines. However, if you detect any infringement concerns, though, you are responsible for pursuing them.

Moreover, registration on the Supplemental Register does not provide evidence of an owner’s sole right to utilize a trademark in connection with a product or service. Finally, it should be noted that in addition to establishing your trademarks, there are a plethora of registered U.S. trademarks for sale that you may purchase.

How To Get a Registered Trademark

If you’re interested in trademarking your company name, product name, logo, or slogan, the first step is to fill out an application for trademark registration. 

It’s important to understand that trademark protection only applies to products and services already commercially available. This means that trademark applicants cannot trademark a product until its use has entered the market.

The following are the fundamental and most important stages in the trademark filing procedure:

  • Select your mark –– This isn’t something you want to take lightly. Once you’ve decided on a name and invested in marketing, you don’t want to change it. So consider carefully before submitting.
  • Perform a competitor mark analysis –– You may do this yourself on the USPTO database, or you can pay a professional firm or attorney to complete it for you. Doing research beforehand will save you time and frustration in the long run.
  • Complete your trademark application on the USPTO website –– The forms are simple to complete. You must provide your name, company information, and the description of your mark. You’ll also need to pay the filing fees.

Once trademark registration has been submitted and approved, trademark owners’ rights in that trademark extend nationwide, giving trademark owners exclusive use of their trademark about the category of goods or services listed in their trademark application.

How To Get a Trademark

There is no formal process for establishing an unregistered trademark. Anyone can use trademark symbols (™ ) and claim trademark rights to their trademark. 

The process of getting a trademark, for many companies, is often less about acquiring trademark rights and more about establishing proof of trademark use. An unregistered trademark symbol is essential for a company’s intellectual property to be identified as its brand.

The privileges of unregistered trademarks include:

  • Protection under common law or state-level legislation about unfair competition. As a result, the majority of states have implemented the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act in response.
  • Legal rights in the areas of your operation. This implies that even if a competitor uses the mark in your region, you can stop them from doing so.
  • Claims to trademark rights in your unregistered trademark as long as it is distinct and distinguishes your items or services.

In the long-term, a trademark registration may be beneficial, even if it does not immediately appear so. However, if you do not intend on establishing your own, there are registered U.S. trademarks for sale that may suit your company’s needs.

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