The Difference Is Extremely Important Under the Law!
If you live in the United States you’ve probably seen the TM (™) and R (®) symbols used in everything from advertisements to product packaging. But what do these symbols mean? And which one can you use for your own branding?
Both TM and R protect your intellectual property rights in the American marketplace. If you’ve built a strong company reputation or cultivated a market of loyal customers, your IP or brand name could be the most important or valuable part of your business. Both the TM and R symbols signify that the brand name or logo has some level of legal protection.
Still, the legal protection you get with TM is different than R. The rules for using the symbols are also different, so you have to be careful about how they apply to you.
- TM stands for “trademark” and can be used by anyone to identify a product or service through a unique word, logo, or phrase. You do not have to actually have a registered trademark to use TM with your branding materials. In fact, many businesses start to use TM with their branding before and during the trademark registration process.
- R stands for “registered trademark” and can only be used if you actually own a trademark registered with the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office (USPTO). You can only use the R symbol within the scope of use and geographic region where your trademark registration applies. A U.S. trademark registration usually applies to all 50 states.
R gives you much greater legal protections compared to an unregistered trademark (TM). If you register your brand name or logo (otherwise known as a “mark”), you get a legal presumption of ownership over it. Anyone who challenges your ownership has a much greater burden of proof to overcome if it’s registered. Not just that, registration gives you the ability to actively take legal action against copycats using your mark without permission.
Although you can technically register a brand trademark on your own, you should talk to an experienced and knowledgeable business lawyer who can help you with the process. Filing a trademark registration incorrectly could end up costing you hundreds of dollars and months of extra time. Plus – if you don’t file your registration properly, you may not be as legally protected as you think. And that’s not something you want to find out until it’s too late.
Can You Use TM Without Registering a Trademark?
Yes. Even if your mark isn’t registered, you can use the ™ symbol with your branding materials. But the TM symbol doesn’t carry that much legal power without an actual trademark registration.
Most businesses start to use the TM symbol to put other market players and consumers on notice that they intend to use the particular brand name, logo, or phrase to identify their products. Then they will start the process of formally registering the trademark at the USPTO.
If you use the TM symbol but fail to take the proper steps to register your trademark with the USPTO, you won’t actually get any major legal protections. For example, someone else could still register your trademark before you. You also don’t get the right to legally stop someone from using your trademark if it’s not registered. Having an actual registered trademark gives you the protection your business needs to safeguard its IP under the law.
When Can You Use R Versus TM for Your Brand?
The ® symbol gives businesses much greater protection over their branding. You can begin using the R symbol as soon as you receive notice from the USPTO that your trademark has been approved. Simply starting the trademark registration process by filing an application isn’t enough– you have to wait until you get approval.
In fact, if you start using the R symbol before your trademark application is approved, the USPTO might count that against you in the application process.
Once your trademark is approved into the USPTO registry, you can use the R symbol only within the scope described in your trademark’s registration.
For example, if you use two different logos, you’ll have to register a trademark separately for each. You can only use R with the marks that get approved for registration. You’d have to submit additional trademark applications for any slogans or product names, too. Your business attorney can help you determine which of your marks to register.
What Are the Benefits of R Over TM?
A trademark is only as strong as its registration. Using TM may warn others, but it’s only a warning. The TM symbol on its own carries little legal power to follow through against copycats or competitors who try to take advantage of your brand’s goodwill and reputation.
Registering the right to use the R symbol, however, gives you:
- The right to exclusive ownership and use of your mark under the law
- A presumption of ownership against anyone else infringing on your rights
- A higher burden of proof that challengers would have to overcome in court
- Confirmation that your own brand does not infringe on anyone else’s
- An aura of sophistication and legitimacy around your brand
- Protections against counterfeit goods found by U.S. Customs and Border Protection
- An advantage for whenever you apply for trademarks in other countries
These types of legal protections could make or break a small business, especially in a time of development and growth. You work hard to build trust and present a certain image among your clients and customers. A competitor with bad intentions could take advantage of your hard work by latching onto your brand name, tanking all the market goodwill and trust you cultivated.
At Holmes Business Law, we help businesses of all sizes protect their intellectual property rights from bad market actors. Our legal team can help you file your trademark registration the right way the first time, saving your business time and money.
Call our Philadelphia area offices today at 215-482-0285 to get started right away.