What is the “TM” Trademark Symbol and When May I Use It?

trademark symbol

You’ve likely seen the “TM” trademark symbol used in combination with various trademarks.  The “TM” trademark symbol is widely utilized by individuals, businesses, and organizations to alert the public of their claim of ownership in a particular mark.  Of course, using a “TM” doesn’t necessarily mean that the user of the mark actually owns any common law trademark rights or federal trademark rights whatsoever.  For example, if I was to start selling soda under the name “COCA-COLA,” I’d be a dirty little infringer since I clearly cannot obtain any trademark rights in the famous COCA-COLA name.

Once a trademark is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the owner of the trademark may use the “®” registered trademark symbol in place of the “TM” in order to provide notice to the world that the trademark is federally registered.

Proper Placement of the “TM” Trademark Symbol

The use of the “TM” trademark symbol is completely optional.  However, if it’s used, the “TM” should either be placed to the lower right (subscript) or to the upper right (superscript) of the actual trademark.  The SUBWAY example below illustrates a subscript placement.  The GMAIL example below illustrates a superscript placement.

trademark symbol

trademark symbol

“TM” vs. “SM”

What is the difference between the “TM” and “SM” designations?  The “TM” symbol stands for “trademark” and is used in conjunction with marks that identify products.  On the other hand, the “SM” symbol denotes a “service mark” and is used in conjunction with marks that identify services.  However, it’s perfectly acceptable to use the “TM” designation regardless of whether the particular mark identifies a product or a service.

Both the “TM” and “SM” symbols may be used with any unregistered mark.  There’s no requirement that there be a pending trademark application seeking registration of the mark with the USPTO.  The “TM” and “SM” can also be used with federally registered marks in place of the registered trademark symbol if the owner so chooses.  However, it’s strongly recommended that the registered trademark symbol be used with registered marks in order to preserve the right to receive certain monetary compensation should you ever have to pursue a trademark infringement lawsuit.

Understanding Which Trademark Symbol to Use

I’m experienced US trademark attorney Morris Turek.  The rules governing trademarks and trademark symbols can be rather confusing.  So, if you have any questions about the proper use of the “TM,” “SM,” or “®” symbols in connection with a new or existing trademark or service mark, please do not hesitate to contact me for a free consultation.  Also, be sure to ask how I can help clear and protect your trademarks so that you can minimize the risk of inadvertently violating someone else’s intellectual property rights.  I may be reached via email at morris@yourtrademarkattorney.com, by phone at (314) 749-4059, or through the contact form found at the bottom of this page.  As always, I look forward to speaking with you.