Registered and unregistered trade marks are represented by different symbols. But do you know whether you should be using TM or ®?
An interesting question and one that you need to know the answer to if you are looking to protect the intellectual property rights of your company.
Intellectual property (IP) refers to the valuable intangible assets of your business. These can be copyright, trade marks, inventions and confidential information. In this article, we’re going to concentrate on trade marks.
You will see companies use either the TM or ® symbol after their brand name. There is often some confusion about what they mean, so here’s a quick guide to help you out.
Trade mark (™)
There are some who say that TM stands for ‘Totally Meaningless,’ which isn’t too far from the truth.
The symbol denotes an unregistered trade mark.
It lets everyone know that the word, logo, or phrase preceding it is being used as a trade mark.
Because it is unregistered, it is not protected by the Trade Marks Act and therefore is often used to discourage others from copying the mark. However, if someone did use it, or something incredibly similar, for a rival product, the owner has no statutory legal process to fall back on. Instead, they are reliant on the tort law of Passing Off.
Now you see why people refer to it as totally meaningless.
In contrast, the ® symbol refers to a trade mark that has been registered with the UKIPO.
That means it is protected under UK Trade Marks Act. Therefore, because it denotes legal ownership of the name, logo, or phrase, anyone trying to use it can be sued for trade mark infringement.
Just in case you were thinking of being crafty and using the registered symbol anyway (without actually going through the process and expense of registering your trade mark), don’t. It is a criminal offence to do so in the UK.
How to use the TM and ® symbols correctly
Even if you register your trade mark, there is no legal obligation to use the ®symbol.
Of course, most companies do because it shows their claim to the branding rights to dissuade others from adopting it or something similar. In other words, it’s a useful way to stave off unwitting trade mark infringements.
The norm is to display these symbols at the upper right-hand corner of the trade mark in superscript. However, if it’s not practical or doesn’t look right, it can be used in the bottom right corner.
Misusing the symbols is a bad idea
We’ve already looked at what the two symbols mean, so you have no excuse for abusing them.
If you do use the registered trade mark symbol (®) without having registered the mark, it is seen as misleading and deceptive. If you are challenged over it, you could be subject to severe penalties.
Why you should use ® if your mark is registered
Although you don’t have to display the ®symbol to show your trade mark is registered, we advise that you do.
It takes a lot of time, effort, and money to build your brand. Using the symbol shows the world you’re serious about it and its value.
Its presence on all your marketing materials signals to your competitors that you are ready to act against them if they infringe it.
By the way, in case you were wondering which is correct, trademark, trade mark, and trade-mark, we can give you the answer here.