Brand owners are often not familiar with the meaning of symbols in relation to their trade marks. The two most commonly-used trade mark symbols, are the letters “TM” in superscript – ™- and the letter R in a circle – “®” – although there are other symbols too, such as ℠, which is common for service marks in the United States, or the abbreviation RTM (which stands for “registered trade mark”).

What do these trade mark symbols mean?

The TM symbol – ™ – is usually used for unregistered marks simply to inform the public that the brand owner is asserting trade mark rights in that word, logo or slogan. With the possible exception of Germany, you do not need a trade mark registration to use this symbol in relation to your branding. Use of this symbol is not a guarantee that the mark will be protected by trade mark laws of the country in which the brand owner is trading. It is quite normal to use the TM symbol while the relevant trade mark application is being processed and this undoubtedly contributes to the general perception that ™ denotes an unregistered mark.

On the other hand, the ® symbol is used to indicate that a mark is registered and provides a formal legal notice of ownership of the brand, whether that be a name, logo or slogan. The use of this symbol warns competitors, for example, that the trade mark is registered, and so it frequently has a strong and effective deterrent effect. Any infringement will be considered a breach of trade mark laws.

So when should I be using these trade mark symbols?

The TM symbol can be used anytime in countries such as the UK or the US (although there are some legal doubts about the ability to use it in Germany for non-registered marks). As mentioned above, it simply gives notice to the public and competitors that you are claiming trade mark rights to the brand next to which it is placed. Even though it may not be registered, mere use of the ™ symbol can be enough to deter competitors from using the same or confusingly-similar mark for your products or services.

In contrast, the ® symbol should only be used in the UK or the United States where you have successfully registered your trade mark with the relevant trade mark office. In the UK, for example, it is a criminal offence to falsely represent that a mark is registered when that is not true, and a representation covers both words such as “registered” as well as the symbol “®” and even other words or symbols which imply that the mark is already registered.

In other countries, such as Mexico and the Philippines, use of “registered mark”/® symbol is compulsory to maintain the registration. Furthermore, failure to use the ® symbol in the United States could mean the loss of important remedies if you should sue for infringement. If in doubt, please contact us (or your trade mark expert) for advice and guidance.

Where should these trade mark symbols be placed?

The most common practice is to place symbols such as ™ and ® on the upper right corner of a trade mark in superscript. It is also quite acceptable to place it in the lower right-hand corner if, for example, it would not be aesthetically pleasing to place it on the top of the mark.

Here at the Trademark Hub, we have a wealth of experience in helping the full spectrum of brand owners – from sole traders and SMEs through to multinationals – to search, protect, and enforce their brands and designs both in the UK, in Europe, and around the world. We are always happy to answer your questions, including working with you to register your trade marks and designs in the UK and beyond. If you have any questions about the usage of these trade mark symbols or abbreviations, let us know and we will be happy to help you.