Intellectual Property Symbols Decry, "I'm More Than My Symbol. I Have Meaning."

I get asked frequently how intellectual property symbols differ and what they mean. This should help:

Trademark Symbol: TM, ™

Common law rights to your trademark and a right to inform possible infringers that it’s yours. However, this does not mean that the mark is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (as that’s another symbol).

Service Mark Symbol: SM

Similar to the TM. It’s a claim of common law rights to a service mark (meaning services instead of goods). For example you may see a TM on a food item and an SM on a website for marketing consulting. Again this symbol does not mean and should not be used to represent that the mark is registered with the USPTO.

Registered Symbol: ® – an R with a circle around it

This is the official symbol used in the United States to distinguish marks registered with the USPTO vs. the other ones not registered (TM and SM). Do not use the circle around the r symbol unless your federal registration has been granted! If you do, you may not have strong case for infringement because your court actions and recovery methods are limited, but also you can get in trouble for fraud as your mark wasn’t really registered but represented that it was.

Writing “Copyrighted By” and Your Name

This is a common law copyright. When we make things they are copyrighted. Unlike when we make logos or pick company names they are trademarks but not “trademarked.” Meaning, there are copyrights (all of the art, websites, writings, etc. we do). And there are registered copyrights. You can use the “Copyrighted By” on art or on your website like, “Rights Reserved. Copyright 2019.”

Copyright Symbol: © – a C with a circle around it

This is the symbol for a copyright registered with the United States Copyright Office (part of the United States Library of Congress). Do not use this unless your copyright is a registered copyright!

Copyright Symbol: (C) – a C with parentheses around it

Same as above/same as the registered copyright symbol with the circle around the c. “Because the © symbol has long been unavailable on typewriters and ASCII-based computer systems, it has been common to approximate this symbol with the characters (C)”

Copyright Symbol: ℗ – a P with a circle around it

This is rarely used. A lot of people think it’s a patent symbol. That’s not the case. It’s actually a symbol for a phonograph (sound recording) copyright. However, mostly everyone just uses the circle-C copyright symbol (©) for all registered copyright types.