Can I legally use the TM symbol before I apply for a trademark registration?

Placement and use of the TM symbol

There are two symbols commonly used to mark trademarks; they are: ® and ™. Everyone who uses a trademark symbol should know at least the following four things: 1. the correct tm symbol to use, 2. Why tm symbols are used, 3. Where tm symbols are placed, and 4. How to insert a tm symbol into your document.

Step 1 - Which to use: ™ or ® ?

Your business can use the ™ symbol whenever it wishes to claim a trademark. You do not need to file any paperwork to receive permission to use the ™ symbol. Use of the ™ symbol can put your competition on notice that your business considers a mark to be your trademark.

Yet, the ® symbol may only be used after the US Government grants a Federal registration certificate. The ® symbol may not be used while the Federal application is pending. Additionally, the ® symbol may only be used in connection with the goods and services listed on the registration certificate.

Step 2 - Why use symbols: To Notify Competitors

Even though a trademark symbol is not required, always use the correct trademark symbol with your trademark. Your competitors will be put on notice of your trademark. Then, they can respect your intellectual property. Likewise, you can prevent your customers from becoming confused by always respecting the trademarks of others, whether they use the ® or ™ symbol.

Importantly, for registered trademarks, use of the ® symbol may be necessary to claim damages and court costs if your business has to sue a competitor. If you have not properly noticed your trademark, you may not be able to obtain money damages or recover your costs.

Step 3 - Where do you place ™ or ® symbol?

When using your trademark, place it prominently, so people will notice it immediately. When using your trademark within a body of text, use bold, italic, UPPERCASE, or a different font. Make your trademark look different from other, surrounding words. Try to use your trademark as an adjective and not as a noun. For example, “Be hip, show style, wear NIKE® shoes”.

Either symbol is usually placed to the upper right of the word, logo or other mark. Sometimes companies list the trademarks used in the material along with the owner in the footer of their website or the bottom of a printed page. For example, “Coca-Cola® and the contour bottle are registered trademarks of The Coca-Cola Company.” Remember, do not claim that your trademark is registered (or use the ® symbol) unless it has actually completed registration with the US Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov). Only marks that have been filed, approved and granted the ribbon-original registration certificate by the US Trademark Office may claim to be registered in the US.

Three placement techniques

There are usually three good ways to notify competitors. They are:

  1. Placement of the ™ or ® symbol right adjacent to the trademark, every time it is used.

  2. Placement of ™ or ® or * (asterisk) or † or (dagger) or ‡ (double dagger) symbol right near the first use of the trademark. Then provide a footnote that describes the trademark.

  3. Setting of all trademark words with bold, italic, UPPERCASE, or a different font, so they are clearly different from surround text. Then provide a footnote that describes the trademark.

The goal is for competitors to see the symbol that marks your (correct) trademark claim.

Placement in other nearby or adjacent areas, like sub-scripted, may work well and could look better.

A footnote description might read like this for federally registered marks, when the most prominent use of the trademark is marked with a dagger.

NIKE and the swoosh logo are trademarks registered in the US Patent and Trademark Office.

Or, alternately, you can use the abbreviation:

NIKE and the swoosh logo. Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off.

If you do not use ® (the first placement technique) with your registered trademark, you must use the phrase registered in the US Patent and Trademark Office or its abbreviated form Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off. for all US registered trademarks.

Or a footnote description might read like this for marks not federally registered

The crown logo is a trademark of MyCompany, Inc.

Step 4 - Inserting ® or ™ into your document

Your word processor has an “insert symbol” function or “Special Character” function in the Edit or Insert menu. These functions let you find all sorts of symbols including the ® or ™ symbol. However, I find copy and paste to be faster. That is, you can copy and paste the symbol right from this webpage into your document.

Why you almost never see the ℠ symbol

The ℠ symbol means “service mark”, which indicates services (rather than goods). However, because the abbreviation SM has another, derogatory meaning, it is rarely used. The ™ symbol works identically, and, should be preferred.