Intellectual property owners, more often than not, find themselves scrambling through the internet to look for an explanation on the proper way to provide notice of their rights to the public at large. Intellectual property attorneys we found ourselves, frequently, scratching our heads when we see big companies with big marketing and legal departments using those symbols incorrectly, they should know better.

Although, currently there is not requirement that any of these symbols are used, it’s highly recommended that intellectual property owners use them appropriately to make sure to notice properly the consuming public.

In the case of trademarks these symbols represent:

® Registered trademark symbol. It is a federal registration symbol reserved for registered marks, not pending, with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Should be noted that it’s prohibited to use the ® before the actual certificate of registration is issued by United States Patent and Trademark Office.

TM and SM are reserved for use by UNREGISTERED marks.

TM: To be used on unregistered marks that identify PRODUCTS such as sodas, cereals, produce, and canned products.

SM: To be used on unregistered marks that identify SERVICES such as those of restaurants, hotels, travel agencies, and import/export agencies, etc.

Is very common to find owners service marks using the TM next to their mark, when the correct denomination would be SM.

One common question we get asked, where do I place those symbols?

Although, there is not a preset rule, placing them to the top right of the trademark in an inconspicuous manner is recommended.

In the case of copyrights, the only symbol available is ©:

©, as opposed to the ® Registered trademark symbol, is not required to have a federal copyright registration to use it. That is because copyrights start at the moment of creation, “the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form” not when the creator obtains protection from the federal government.

From 1802 to 1989 the law required that copyright notice be put on every copy of a work, not anymore.

One common question we get asked, what is the proper format for a copyright notice.

Copyright notice is a statement placed on copies of a work to inform the public that a copyright owner is claiming ownership of it. A notice consists of three elements that generally appear as a single continuous statement:

  • The copyright symbol © (or for phonorecords, the symbol ℗ ); the word “copyright”; or the abbreviation “copr.”;
  • The year of first publication of the work; and
  • The name of the copyright owner.
  • Example: © 2022 Augusto Perera

Copyright notice was required for all works first published before March 1, 1989, subject to some exceptions. If the notice was omitted or a mistake was made in using copyright notice, the work generally lost copyright protection in the United States. Copyright notice is optional for works published on or after March 1, 1989, unpublished works, and foreign works; however, there are legal benefits for including notice on your work.

I have helped countless creators and entrepreneurs avoid these mistakes. I’d like to help by advising you on how to better protect your rights to trademarks, copyrights, and other intellectual property rights in the US and overseas.