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What Do the TM, SM and That Circle R Symbol Really Mean?

A trade mark symbol, ™, designates a word, phrase or symbol proprietary to a product. A service mark symbol, ℠, designates a word, phrase or symbol proprietary to the source of a service.

Anyone can add the tm symbol or the sm symbol to any word phrase or symbol he or she wants to make proprietary.

A registered trade mark or service mark, written as ®, is a legal designation that grants exclusive legal rights nationwide.

If you find the statements above vague and equivocal, welcome to the world of trade mark law! However, there are some general principles to help you navigate this foggy terrain.

It can be tricky to determine what constitutes a product and what constitutes a service. One example that may help illustrate the difference is that of an insurance company. An insurance company is a service provider and should service mark its name and logo to make it proprietary. A specific insurance policy created and sold by that company is a product and would therefore require a trademark.

You may wonder why some enterprising entrepreneur hasn’t trade-marked every word, phrase and/or symbol he or she could think of, much like the 1990s rush to purchase potentially popular domain names that were then sold to businesses late to the Internet game at inflated prices. The reason for this is because the trade mark symbol establishes common law rights and those rights derive from continual use in commerce. As long as that trade mark is consistently and continuously used in commerce, the trade mark will not expire.

Individuals and companies that want more fortification than a common-law trade mark or service mark offers can register their word, phrase or logo with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO requires an application for registration that includes a significant fee and a rigorous approval process, however the benefits of registration are the word, phrase or logo is listed in a public, searchable database which indicates legal ownership and exclusive rights to the word, phrase or logo nationwide. A registered trademark can last forever, as long as the correct paperwork is filed in a timely manner and the fees are payed.

And just in case you are wondering, a patent grants federal rights to the exclusive design and production of an invention and is of limited duration. A copyright is a collection of federal rights granted to original compositions such as literary work, software, music and architecture.  Copyright protection is usually limited to the life of the writer/designer plus a designated number of years.


This post courtesy of Account Manager, Nancy Pederson

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