I'm sure you've seen copyright symbols and various trademark symbols before. Recently, I came across a website that had at least seven copyright symbols on it. I mean, it was almost to the point where it was just ridiculous to have that many copyright symbols. And sometimes you see so-called trademarked slogans on TV like, "That's hot," "You're fired," and "That's so fetch," with a little TM symbol at the end. What's up with all these symbols and what are the proper ways to use them?
The first one we'll look at is the copyright symbol. This symbol is used to inform the public of your copyright ownership. Use of the copyright symbol was once required as a condition of copyright protection, but now it is optional. This means that even if you don't use the copyright symbol, you are still entitled to a copyright protection. But this symbol is still nice to use because it informs the public that your work is protected by copyright, it identifies the copyright owner, and it shows the year of first publication.
You can use this symbol whether or not your work is registered with the Copyright Office. The big difference is, common law copyrights do not protect authors or creators of work from subsequent copying of their work once published, but instead provide only limited protection for the first publication.
Another symbol you my have seen is this TM symbol. This symbol is used to inform that public of your trademark ownership. Like the copyright symbol, it's optional to use this symbol. Just because you don't use the TM symbol doesn't mean that you don't have trademark rights. But it's nice to let people know that you are claiming ownership to your trademark. That way, infringers can't turn around and claim innocence when there is a TM symbol right on the trademark.
TM symbol can also be used to inform the public that you have a pending trademark application before the USPTO.
You have have heard of something called a service mark, which is shown as SM symbol. One question I often get is, "Is service mark a trademark?" Yes. A service mark is a trademark. A service mark is a registered trademark that is used as a source identifier of services. This means that service marks are not used as a source identifier for goods.
Because the SM symbol is used only when you have a registered trademark, you can't use it when you have a pending trademark application. If you have a pending trademark application, use the TM symbol.
Lastly, here is the R symbol. The R symbol is used to show that a trademark has been registered with the USPTO. Unlike the SM symbol, the R symbol is used with trademarks that are used to identify the source of goods.
It is important to remember that you cannot and should not use the R symbol (or the SM symbol for that matter) before your trademark is registered. If you are doing that now, remove the R symbol immediately. The USPTO can refuse to register your trademark on grounds that you are improperly using the R symbol (or the SM symbol). So just be patient until your trademark registers.
Some of you may be wondering, how patents are designated or shown on goods. Unlike copyrights and trademarks, patent owners do not have "common law rights." The only way to have patent rights is to register a patent with the USPTO. If an invention is patented, you will see "U.S. Patent No. ______" written on the invention somewhere.