What Are The Trademark Symbols – ®, TM, SM – Which One Should You Use?


There are three trademark symbols. They have different meanings and uses. On the other hand, they share the same purpose – to let everyone know that you either have a Federal trademark or that you are claiming trademark rights in your brand.

The three trademark symbols are:

  1. the letters TM
  2. the letters SM, and
  3. the letter R in a circle – ®

Knowing which symbol to use is important to preserve your trademark rights. This post explains them and their proper use in everyday language.

The Three Trademark Symbols

The letters TM are for unregistered trademarks (marks for products like shoes or computers).

The letters SM are for unregistered service marks (marks for services like legal services).

The ® is for Federal trademarks (trademarks or service marks registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office).

The ® is reserved for Federal marks only – after you have a Federal registration. This means you've filed an application and received a registration certificate from the U.S. government. In contrast, the TM and SM symbols are used with unregistered marks, trademarks registered with a State, and while an application is pending at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Quick note: In the trademarks industry, we use the word trademark to refer to both trademarks and service marks. We don't usually refer to service marks very often. So, you can use the TM symbol for both.

Why Use Trademark Symbols Anyway?

There is no requirement to use any trademark symbol. It is a good idea to use the right ones, nonetheless. Here are a few reasons why.

Using the TM, SM, or ® lets competitors know that you claim some trademark rights, which dissuades copycats. Use of the ®, in particular, lets everyone know you have a Federal trademark, which entitles you to recover lost profits and money damages without having to prove intentional copying.

Basically, in Court, no one can feign ignorance of a Federal trademark when the ® symbol is used correctly.

Warning: You are not allowed to use the ® symbol before you receive your Federal registration. If you do, that can be grounds for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to reject your trademark application because of a violation of federal law.

The Most Important Takeaways

  1. Use the ® with Federally registered marks only.
  2. Use TM or SM for unregistered marks, including applications still-pending in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  3. Use TM for marks that brand goods and SM for marks that brand services. If your mark brands both products and services, use TM.


By Michael Kondoudis
Michael E. Kondoudis is an award-winning trademark attorney and the principal of The Law Office of Michael E. Kondoudis, a trademark and patent law firm headquartered in Washington, DC. If you are serious about protecting your business and brand, we invite you to request a brand protection strategy session.
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