What Does TM Mean And When Can You Use It

When you work hard to create a product and a business, you want to protect your creations from theft and infringement. One way to do this is with a trademark. Most people are familiar with the TM and ® symbols for trademarks, but many have questions. What does TM mean? What does ® mean? When can you use one or both symbols? Using these symbols is more straightforward than you might think, but you need to ensure that you use them correctly to avoid getting into trouble. An experienced attorney from War IP Law PLLC may be able to assist you with your questions about registering trademarks, when to use the TM symbol, or how to protect a trademark in the United States. Consider calling (202) 800-3754 to schedule a 30-minute no hassle consultation to discuss your legal options.

When Can I Use the TM Symbol?

TM stands for the word trademark. The symbol is often seen in superscript, such as in ExampleTM. The TM is usually used with an unregistered trademark, such as a term, slogan, logo, brand, or other indicator. The use of this symbol is intended to provide notice to potential infringers that the individual or business using the trademark is claiming the rights to the mark in connection with specific services or goods. 

The use of a trademark with a business’s goods or services makes the user the trademark owner under common law. This means that the owner can use the TM symbol from the first use of the trademark. However, registration of the trademark provides stronger rights and allows the owner to use the ® (registered) symbol. The TM symbol can be used whether or not the trademark owner has applied for registration, applied and been denied, or applied and is waiting for the mark to be registered. Without registration, though, there is no guarantee that the mark will be protected throughout the country by trademark laws, even if the TM symbol is used. 

Can You Use TM on Anything?

TM, and its companion symbol SM (which stands for service mark) can both be used alone for unregistered trademarks or for goods or services that are not covered by a federal registration. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) indicates that if the mark is registered, the ® symbol should be used with the products or services included in the classification of goods or services that the registration covers to indicate that it is a registered trademark. Therefore, once registered, a trademark would look like this: Example®.

Trademark owners do need to take note of the fact that the ® symbol is for use exclusively with trademarks that have been registered with the USPTO. If a trademark owner uses ® with an unregistered trademark, it is considered trademark fraud and can result in the trademark being canceled and other potential penalties. The registered symbol can only be used after registration is official. Do not use the symbol: 

  • If an application for registration has not been filed
  • If an application has been filed but not yet approved
  • If an application has been denied
  • If a trademark declaration or renewal was not filed within the appropriate time
  • On goods or services that were not included in the classes for the registered trademark 

What Is TM Trademark Used For?

An important thing to understand about trademark usage and ownership in the United States, unlike many foreign countries that give rights to the one who files for registration first, is that trademark rights in a geographic area generally go to the first user of the mark under common law. This may be different from the first to file for registration or even the first to think of the trademark. In other words, three different people could come up with the same trademark around the same time. The one who uses it first will be the one who gets the rights within the geographic area that the mark is used, even if the other two attempt to register the mark. This does not mean that a brand or business should not file for trademark registration. However, it does mean that use of the TM symbol on their trademark prior to registration may still help the business if there is a dispute with registration.

The most common reason brands or businesses use the TM trademark symbol is to discourage infringement. What does TM mean? The TM symbol means that the person using the mark is claiming common law trademark rights, such as the right to sue for trademark infringement within geographical limitations. However, trademark owners should also note that they cannot record common law trademarks (unregistered trademarks) with the United States Customs and Border Protection. They should also be aware that, since there is no single database of common law trademarks, it may be difficult to provide notice of common law rights to others. If you believe your trademark has been infringed upon, an intellectual property (IP) attorney from War IP Law PLLC may be able to help. 

Can I Use a Logo That Has TM in It?

Any business or brand can use the TM symbol in its logo. If the trademark is not registered, the owner may use the TM symbol but not the ® symbol. If the owner has registered the trademark, then the ® symbol can be used in place of the TM to indicate registration. 

Trademark owners should also be aware that, while the use of the registered symbol is optional after registration, it is recommended that they use it. Registration protects the trademark; however, if the ® is not used and the trademark owner needs to bring an infringement action, the owner may need to prove that the infringer was aware that the trademark was registered. This is unnecessary extra work that could potentially cost the trademark owner in lost profits and monetary damages. Therefore, once registered, the ® symbol should be used to clearly establish that the mark is registered.

How Should the TM Symbol Be Used?

Trademark owners enjoy some flexibility in how and where to use the TM symbol. The International Trademark Organization states that it is typically placed in the upper righthand or lower righthand corners or level with the mark itself. The symbol is also usually in superscript, appearing smaller and at the top of the trademark, as indicated previously. The symbol is typically used on products and in press releases, articles, blog posts, company reports, and other written documents. In documents, the symbol can be used with the first or most prominent mention of the trademark and does not need to be used throughout the rest of the document.

Contact an IP Attorney With Questions Regarding Trademark Registration or Using the TM Symbol

Trademarks, registration, and the symbols to use can be overwhelming if you have never dealt with them before. If you are still asking what does TM mean, when can I use the symbol, or other questions, consider contacting an intellectual property attorney from War IP Law PLLC by calling (202) 800-3754 for a consultation today.