Have you ever looked at a logo or name of a business and wondered what the symbols in the corners after the name or logo represented? I am referring to the “TM, SM or ®”? These symbols represent a trademark, which according to the United States Patent Office (USPTO) is “a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” SM or Service Mark applies to a service rather than a good, but “trademark” can be used to identify either. The USPTO describes these definitions on this page.
The “®” represents a Registered trademark with the USPTO and it is important to note that while you have a trademark awaiting registration, you are not allowed to use the “registered symbol,” until you have received confirmation that the Patent Office has filed and registered your image.
The USPTO has created a Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) that you can use to search out other trademarks and find if there is one that is similar to your own. The database contains registered trademarks prior pending applications and helps give you guidelines to be able to search properly.
Photo Courtesy of Peavey Electronics
Daniel Wolper, a former designer of Peavey Electronics, and now runs Wolper Design Consulting. He describes trademarks as, “a TM isn’t registered, but you are saying it is unique to your business or that it is your intellectual property so “Peavey” is a ® and ‘Innovation. Amplified’ was a TM. Those words aren’t made up by Peavey, but using ‘Innovation. Amplified.’ like that is, so its a TM.” He goes on to explain further regarding the Peavey tagline, “Peavey could register ‘Innovation. Amplified’, but that will cost legal fees.” Part of the duties Wolper was responsible for was designing packaging for Peavey products.
Photo Courtesy of Chris Misun
“A ‘® or TM’ needs to appear once per each side of the package. Technically Peavey wouldn’t need the ‘®’ every time; only each time it appears on a sign or ad.”
The world of design encounters the uses of ‘TM’ and ‘®’ symbols on a fairly regular basis, however celebrities and athletes have been known to make attempts to Trademark nicknames or phrases associated with them such as Jeremy Lin, formally with the New York Knicks, but now with the Houston Rockets. In February of 2012, according to an article with CNN Money, it discusses Lin’s filing was not the first one to try and trademark, “Linsanity.”
Lin is not the only one to file for a trademark on the term, but he stands a good chance of winning it, according to Gary Krugman, a Washington trademark attorney.
“Someone else can’t register a trademark if the term points uniquely to a person or institution,” Krugman said.
The moral of the story when trademarks and registrations come about is to do your research. Use TESS to find out if someone else has taken the steps to registered something similar to yours, otherwise, be aware that registering does come with a price but also comes with more protection than using the ™ symbol.