You, like many of my small business clients, are wondering what is the difference between a trademark (TM) and a registered trademark (R) – and which is right for your business. Be aware that there ARE substantial differences between these two types of trademarks that business owners need to know to properly protect their brands, company names from competitor theft.
This article, written in plain, easy-to-understand business English (not legal terminology) will help you to understand the consequences of registering or not registering your company intellectual property trademarks.
It will help guide you to a sound decision about your brand’s protection and decide whether it is worth the time, effort and money to Federally register your business trademarks.
NOTE: This article it specifically about trademarks which protect business names, logos and brands. If you have questions about protecting other types of intellectual property such as works of art, writing and songs read more about copyrights which protect those types of items.
What is a Trademark & a Registered Trademark?
A trademark is a form of intellectual property that is owned by your company and gives your firm a commercial advantage. Examples include company names, brand names, product names, logos and advertising images.
The trademark symbol ™ (TM) Stands for “trade mark” and can be attached to products the company is claiming to be original to them. However you cannot add the TM symbol to any intellectual property that is “confusingly similar” to a registered trademark.
A registered trademark is the same type of intellectual property described above ( company names, logos and images) that has been registered with the US patent and trademark office and granted the claim to ownership and protection nationwide.
The registered trademark symbol (R) designates that the trademark is officially registered with the federal government. The symbol is a legal identification to the public that it is protected intellectual property.
NOTE: There is also another type of mark called a a service mark. While trademarks, registered or not, protect brand identifiers which represents physical items such as products and companies.
Whereas, service marks protect those same brand identifiers when they are representing non-physical items such as services. Read my article to learn more about the differences between trademarks and service marks.
Differences in Trademark Registration and What it Means to Your Business
The trademark symbol ™ can be used by anybody or any company to indicate that a certain word, phrase or logo is their identifier for the source of that product. By doing so, you get “common law” usage rights. Depending on your region you get some protection under the federal “Lanham Act” which prohibits commercial misrepresentation of source of goods.
The USPTO United States Patent and Trademark Office states. “ In the United States, parties are not required to register their marks to obtain protectable
rights. You can establish “common law” rights in a mark based solely on use of the mark in commerce, without a registration.”
Registered trademark have enhanced rights through Federal registration. According to the USPTO, “Owning a federal trademark registration on the Principal Register provides a number of significant advantages over common law rights alone, including:
- A legal presumption of your ownership of the mark and your exclusive right to use the mark nationwide on or in connection with the goods/services listed in the registration.NOTE: State registration only provides rights within the borders of that one state, and common law rights exist only for the specific area where the mark is used
- The ability to record the U.S. registration with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods
- The right to use the federal registration symbol “® ”
- The ability to bring an action concerning the mark in federal court
- The use of the U.S. registration as a basis to obtain registration in foreign countries.”