In the world of commerce, the ® registered trademark symbol (known as the “Circle R”) conveys a very important meaning. The registered trademark symbol signifies that a trademark or service mark has been federally registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). It’s regularly used by owners of registered trademarks to put the world on actual notice of their federal trademark rights and to deter others who may be considering adopting an identical or confusingly similar mark.
As a side note, just because you see the registered trademark symbol next to a trademark, don’t assume that the mark is actually federally registered. It’s very possible that the registration may have been cancelled, the mark was never registered to begin with, or the mark is merely the subject of a pending trademark application that has not yet matured into a registration. So, if you ever want to know for sure whether a particular trademark is registered, you’ll have to conduct a thorough and comprehensive federal trademark search.
® vs. TM / SM
The registered trademark symbol shouldn’t be used with a particular trademark until the USPTO officially issues the Certificate of Registration. Instead, the “TM” or “SM” trademark symbol may be used to alert the public to a claim of ownership in the mark. Once the mark is registered by the USPTO, the registered trademark symbol can be substituted in place of the “TM” or “SM.”
Proper Placement of the Registered Trademark Symbol
It’s recommended that the registered trademark symbol be used in connection with all registered trademarks. It should either be placed to the lower right (subscript) or to the upper right (superscript) of the actual mark. The COCA-COLA example below illustrates a subscript placement. The CITIBANK example below illustrates a superscript placement.
Proper Use of the Registered Trademark Symbol
It’s important to note that the Circle R can only be used with a registered trademark when the mark is being used to advertise and sell the products/services recited in the Certificate of Registration. For instance, let’s say that a company obtains a federal trademark registration for XYZ for “t-shirts.” But, let’s say the company also sells hats and backpacks under the same XYZ trademark. This company may use the registered trademark symbol when the XYZ mark is being used to advertise and sell t-shirts (e.g. XYZ®), but not when the XYZ mark is being used to advertise and sell hats and backpacks. Instead, the company may use the “TM” for hats and backpacks (e.g. XYZ™). If the company later applies to register XYZ for hats and backpacks and is eventually granted a registration, then it can replace the “TM” with the registered trademark symbol.
Why Should I Use the Circle R?
Once the USPTO issues the Certificate of Registration, the trademark owner should use the Circle R in conjunction with its mark. Even though use of the symbol is optional, a registered trademark owner who fails to use it is barred from recovering profits and damages in a trademark infringement lawsuit unless the infringer had actual notice of the trademark registration (which may be quite difficult to prove in many cases). The owner of the registered trademark may still be able to stop the infringing party from continuing to use the mark, but monetary compensation could become much tougher to get.
Do You Want the Ability to Use the Registered Trademark Symbol?
Only by registering your trademark with the USPTO will you obtain the maximum protection under the law and the right to use the registered trademark symbol to notify and deter your competitors.
I’m US trademark attorney Morris Turek. If you have any questions about trademarks in general, or if you’re ready to safeguard your trademark by obtaining a United States trademark registration, please feel free to contact me for a no-obligation consultation. I may be reached at (314) 749-4059, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by filling out the contact form located below. As an experienced and dedicated trademark attorney, I’ll provide the assistance and guidance you need to protect your most valuable assets…your trademarks.