Logo Design Love

For graphic designers and all who love logos.

Trademark symbols, what’s the point?

What exactly is the point in using trademark symbols? I’m talking about the ® and ™ we sometimes see attached to logos.

TM symbol

“If you claim rights to use a mark, you may use the “TM” (trademark) or “SM” (service mark) designation to alert the public to your claim of ownership of the mark, regardless of whether you have filed an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). However, you may only use the federal registration symbol “®” after the USPTO actually registers a mark, and not while an application is pending.”

Quoted from the USPTO website.

So if anyone can use TM, isn’t it just adding clutter (as Starbucks have done)?

Starbucks website screenshot
Starbucks website screenshot

Even when the ‘R’ symbol is used (shown below on the Adidas and McDonald’s websites), it looks more like a few stray pixels, a slip of the designer’s hand.

Adidas website screenshot
Adidas website screenshot

McDonald's website screenshot
McDonald’s website screenshot

And when companies such as Nike, Mercedes-Benz, and Coca-Cola leave their main online logos free from this embellishment, is there really any point?

Nike website screenshot
Nike website screenshot

Mercedes-Benz website screenshot
Mercedes-Benz website screenshot

Coca-Cola website screenshot
Coca-Cola website screenshot

Just something I’ve been wondering.

Related:
Logo trademarking tips: a legal perspective, on davidairey.com

Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities, second edition

49 appreciated comments

  1. ft

    Good question, does that mean Starbucks trademark is only ‘pending’ though?

  2. All this little Rs and TMs are the reason why the appearance of Microsoft feels so bumpy to me and Apple, on the other hand, so clean. If you take a look at the Microsoft homepage it’s horrible, especially the lightbox slide for MS Office: http://twitpic.com/7jcr55 Even on the small icons are little TMs.
    Apple looks so much cleaner and friendlier without all this cluttering stuff.
    I think this is a point why Apple is such a love mark: it looks friendly. All the trademark extensions of the Microsoft logos says subliminal: “We own all the rights and if you do something wrong with it we sue you till death!”
    So the decision to put the trademark extension reveals somehow the behavior of the company.

  3. It’s exactly like USPTO says, you are claiming the mark. The TM designates that element as something by which you want to be recognized. Nke, Mercedes,-Benz and Coca-Cola have already established ownership of their symbols.

  4. Which then makes me wonder, Miles, hasn’t McDonald’s already established ownership of the golden arches, or Microsoft with its wordmark (below)?

    Additionally, if a trademark is registered, but doesn’t display the ® symbol, is it any less protected against trademark infringement?

    Arne, that’s a good example of symbol overdose.

    Microsoft screenshot

  5. Interesting. Is this the case in the UK, also?

  6. Christina

    It’s exactly as Miles has stated above. But the main problem with ‘TM’ vs ‘R’ is that even after years of establishing rights before registering a mark legally….someone else can file the paperwork first and own the mark you’ve worked so hard for. It could end up a huge mess in the end. But is full registration really worth it in the long run? I mean all of the fees you have to pay every so many years can become a hassle so you could still end up losing ownership if you mess up. The TM is scary enough but the R really means so much more responsibility….or does it?

  7. Dp

    Thats a fair question. I think if you’re a smaller company and have a great iconic logo/name, you would want to protect it by using a registration mark. After all, you’re not Apple and probably don’t have the resources to do battle in court with a larger company, so you save yourself some misery down the road in that respect. But I don’t see the point of McDonald’s using it. At one time I know that you HAD to use it if you were registered, but that rule has since changed.

    Using a trademark symbol ( if youre a smaller company with a great iconic logo) is not a bad idea for the same reason. It shows others that you are at least THINKING in terms of legalities which in itself is a deterrent.

    These established companies are probably just listening to their legal department more than their design department in this regard.

    I notice it more on food/beverage packaging than anywhere else. I suppose that if you eat poisonous food and the package has a logo on it that looks like yours you would have more of a reason to deter potential logo thieves.

    So it goes…

    -dp

  8. Dp

    Also, I know that legally , if you use your mark for a while, that gives you some intellectual property rights even without trademark or registration symbols.

    -dp

  9. Dani

    I’m going to guess that at some level, it has to do with what their attorneys tell them to do. I’ve worked with several clients who use the trademark and registered trademark symbols, and found that not only do they use them inconsistently (some want it everywhere, some only on certain logos or name mentions), but that it ultimately comes down to “this is how our IP attorney told us to use it”. Perhaps it’s more of a lack of agreed-upon best practices in the Intellectual Property community than anything else?

  10. Christina

    I find it interesting though how I have two businesses that are both TM and one I seem to have no problem getting social networks to recognize. But the other, for example, Facebook wants my ‘R’ filing # before they’ll delete someone else using my name. The funny thing is that this other person uses ‘C’ in a circle with the name. They have no idea that it isn’t correct.

  11. I’m glad you’ve touched on this, David. I can remember a few years back when a client asked me to place the ® symbol next to their new logo I designed. I had to research into the matter and let them know it wasn’t legal and could be fined for doing so (UK company).

    As for the ™ mark, I reckon people use it ‘cos it because: 1) they can, and 2) sometimes it just looks cool. I use it on my current Design Soak logo for no other reason that I like the way it looks.

    I see you’re case, though; there’s no real point of showing the ® or ™ at all in most cases.

  12. I recommend reading this detailed resource.

    http://www.owe.com/resources.html

    This firm has been specializing in intellectual property for decades and has worked with many of the top brand identity firms.

  13. Good examples. Definitely more clean without the marks.

  14. Whatever option gets chosen ®, ™ or neither is a brand image communication consideration. It is an approach that impacts on the perception of the brand.

    If you own the ® there’s no need to display it unless, for example, you want to communicate a strict ‘hands off’ and that you intend to police your brand tightly. Many brands don’t want to give this impression and are quietly confident that when push comes to shove they’re in as strong a position as they can be from a legal point of view.

    On the other hand the ™ is more a statement of intent, irrespective of an actual claim. Or, in some instances, it can serve an aesthetic consideration.

    I part own a registered trademark in the UK and we elected to use the ™ instead of the ® because it communicates more overtly that our brand is a brand…

    Ignore Me (TM)

  15. I trademark (service mark, actually) for one of my businesses and I can’t think of anytime I’ve ever had to think about it. As I recall, if you feel you need to claim the mark as a TM, you should do so as early as possible, but it affords you slightly less security than a registered TM.

    However, as I recall, if someone claims rights to the trademark, and registers it, and then you later discover the mark was registered, but you can prove you were using it first, then you may likely have claims to it even if the other party registered it first.

    I think the advantage of registering it is that it may ward off others from using it if they check the registry.. and it does show a paper trail right up to the walls of the gov that you claimed it.

  16. The one that always annoys me is the Yahoo! one on Flickr. It’s bad enough that there’s already a registered trademark and an awkward “from” shoehorned in there, but the tiny pixel at the end make it look like there’s a typo.

  17. iain

    Corporate lawyers have to justify their existence somehow.

    Right?

  18. Matthew Speakman

    We use TM after every instance of the name of our clients who are new to a market and do not yet have high brand recognition. Especially when the name is used in a sentence- in copy or other context. We do so because when readers encounter a new name, the word does not always ring out as a brand name when read in this fashion. The TM signifies “company.” Sometimes, like I imagine is the case for Starbucks, we just keep it indefinitely and consistently for all usages.

    If our clients have a highly unique product, that actually has a patented formula, design, process, or other, which is registered (R), we use the insignia without question. The USPTO does not award patents lightly. To even go to the trouble of applying for a patent means you have something really worth protecting.

    For our agency, neither the TM or R are used to say “hands off, this is protected.” Rather, they help consumers understand “this is a business name” (TM) and – no joke, this is a patented, unique formula, design, or process you won’t find anywhere else (R).

  19. I’ve always wondered this also. Especially on huge brands, and used to the point of having it in a YouTube video title. Come on, is it really necessary EVERYWHERE?
    Some interesting post comments though.

  20. Gerald Sheffiled

    @ Mathew Speakman, Your absolutely correct. Trademarks are official designators of ownership and copyright. However, the trademark helps companies that were not the original producers of the work or have patented formula, design, process which is registered. An artist, writer, painter can always prove copyright ownership for their original pieces of work. It may go to court, but we can all show proof of the original works through drafts, sketches and notes.

    It is always recommended to file with the US copyright office. But there still exist intellectual property.

  21. @Matthew: Interesting point. The (high) usage of TM and R in copytext looks mostly very suspicious to me because this practic is mostly jused by suspicious, esoteric websites which want to claim that their brand and/or product is something reliable but the truth is, it’s a racket and not worth a dime … So, this kind of practic makes me sceptic and does not show me that the brand/product is trustworthy.

  22. @Matthew, interesting point.

    I’ve always taken a brand I see with a TM or Registration mark more seriously. I believe this to be true with the world at large as well, as in those unaware that you can simply slap a TM on anything. I’ve become so accustomed to seeing the marks attached to brands that carry weight in the marketplace that seeing the same mark attached to an unknown brand instantly gives it some familiarity and influence over an unknown and unclaimed mark. Hopefully that makes sense?

    From a design perspective it can be a nightmare, I agree. I’ve designed plenty of brandmarks where the ‘R’ mark wasn’t a consideration until the design was finalized and “throwing it in” at that point felt like a careless afterthought which cheapened the design. To the contrary, if taken into consideration during the planning stages, I have seen the TM and R marks used rather effectively as part of the design solution, whether it be contained within the logo, or used to balance the logo.

    In the end I’d imagine most of us are fine so long as there is only one TM or R to be found . . . the brand is still approachable. It’s when the symbol, the wordmark, the tagline, and seemingly everything else surrounding the brand has its own individual mark associated with it, that it’s overkill and ridiculous. That’s when I agree with some of the earlier comments that stated the brand becomes less friendly and too hands off.

    Interesting topic, thanks David.

  23. This is a great discussion. All really good points.
    To make an example of my earlier point:

    The DuPont company makes a material called Tyvek®.
    This material is not some generic product like “paper” or “fiber.”
    It’s Tyvek®. The ® symbol signifies to consumers that nobody else makes this material. It is a unique, patented material that has a proper name which has been registered by the USPTO.

    If I were writing a press release announcing the launch of Tyvek® on behalf of DuPont, it might sound like this:

    “DuPont has done it again with an innovative new synthetic material called Tyvek®.”

    This is markedly different than, say:

    “Starbucks has done it again with a tasty new beverage called coffee.”

    The ® communicates the legitimacy of a new product and often a new word to consumers as proprietary.

    The same can be said for ™ where it is appropriate.

    But do ® and ™ belong next to logos, wordmarks, and taglines in every case? Your client’s legal department will let you know. Personally, I feel once a brand or name has saturation and recognition, you can relax the use of ® and ™.

    Nike’s original wordmark and swoosh were heavily laden with ®. Now, you hardly see it. But when Nike announced AIR®, their unique, patented, see-through air cushion, you can be sure they wanted you to recognize the innovation as opposed to the gas we all breathe.

    “Nike has done it again with a new footbed cushion called AIR®.”

    VS.

    “Nike has done it again with anew foodbed cushion called air.

  24. VDM

    “The USPTO does not award patents lightly. To even go to the trouble of applying for a patent means you have something really worth protecting.”

    On the contrary, patents are awarded VERY lightly. That’s why every cell phone, software, and gadget company are all simultaneously suing each other. They all have a trove of vaguely-worded patents covering even the most obvious ideas.

  25. It’s an interesting idea because if the mark is registered then would there be any need for it as if someone did take it, they would still get into trouble right? So it’s really just a warning symbol for thieves, or a deterrent like a burglar alarm in which case, I’d say not to have them as then the person thinking of stealing doesn’t know and will be risking it.

  26. mce

    The only registered mark I’ve liked is used in the Levis red tag – simple, effective. Almost a logo within itself and easily identifies the brand. Any other good ones out there?

  27. Maxivac

    I’m sorry but I dont speak english very well.

    Se imaginan a “La Gioconda” con un TM o R?

    Se imaginan a “The Beatles” diciendo al final de cada canción…”Esta canción esta protegida por derechos de autor”

    Se lo imaginan a Harry Potter diciéndolo?

    Porque las empresas tienen que comunicar su derecho de propiedad en primera plana como si fuera un titular de periódico? Acaso no sabemos que tienen un departamento legal que se encarga de estos asuntos?

    Uds. se imaginan esa área legal como si fuera el área creativa de la empresa, abogados usando remeras, jeans rotos, zapatillas, etc. “como sea que se imaginen un creativo”

    Que derecho tiene la empresa de arruinar la originalidad de un creativo diseñador comunicando aspectos legales y de propiedad?

    Pienso que cada cosa tiene que estar en su lugar.

  28. cereal

    It’s the lawyers like me who tell the designers to add these things in. there is no design point; I assume if the evil suits were not there insisting on the TMs and (R)’s they would quickly vanish.

  29. ilkut

    Thanks, I think this is a very intriguing post. Completely agreeing to your point from an aesthetics point of view, but i couldn’t help myself taking into consideration that the amount of eyeballs these logos ‘attract’. I have given some more details to this on my post around few things happened to google’s logo…

    http://pleasurebypixel.com/index.php/thinking/branding/on-trademark-symbols-in-logos/

  30. There are a lot comments speculating on the use of ® and TM.

    I recommend reading this detailed resource.

    http://www.owe.com/resources.html

    This firm has been specializing in intellectual property for decades and has worked with many of the top brand identity firms.

  31. This is an interesting post, and has clearly spurred lots of discussion. I would note however that many of the comments regarding filing requirements, others “beating you to filing” and the process overall, will be very different depending on the relevant jurisdiction (whether it is a first use or first to file jurisdiction makes a huge difference). Also, just because you have registered a mark in relation to one class of goods or services does not necessarily give the right for you to use the registered symbol in relation to all of your goods/services (if you have a vast array). The fine details are why working with a trademark attorney is invaluable if your business brand is important to you.

  32. What, Starbucks have not actually registered their Trademark? I find that most odd!

  33. When it comes to McDonalds and Starbucks I don’t think a R/TM does them any good. But when it comes to small business trying to look professional (as my customers mostly are) than I think a TM does go very well with the logo. I use a TM in 2 out of 3 logo designs.

    @Amanda. No, Starbucks have registered their trademark. It resisted by Starbucks U.S. Brands LLC of Nevada. BUT, they choose to use the TM because they want (despite that they could have used a R if they’d like).

  34. rek

    Here’s a question – is the ™/® by the logo equal or superior to the ™/® disclaimer at the bottom of the ad or back page of the brochure? Can the disclaimer stand on its own? Is it enough to claim the logo or trademarked name?

  35. Frank

    I’ve worked in house for a company that constantly developed new products and dealt constantly with legally protecting our new brands.

    According to our lawyers: From a legal visual perspective it is irrelevant wether a TM or ® appears on your logo in terms of ownership. Either you have your brand name and logo protected (or have filed to do so) or you haven’t. Leaving those TM/® marks off your logo does not open the door for others to claim the brand as their own.

    However, within the industry, competitors can attempt to register our brand names in other markets before we get around to it. They cannot use the name on their products, but owning the name on another continent, for example, would prevent us from ever expanding there.

  36. Mark

    Great discussion. I agree adding (TM) or (R) can detract from a logo design. Unfortunately, it is often a legal necessity to protect and build brand value.

    @Chelsea makes a good point that a registered trademark protects a mark for a specific range of goods or services only. The famous “Cadillac” dog food case set the precedent. Cadillac dog food used the exact Cadillac car logo on it’s dog food to indicate high quality dog food. The Court allowed this because there was little danger of dog food or its manufacturer being confused with a car and Cadillac had only registered the logo’s use in connection with cars.

    (R) is the symbol for a registered trademark filed in the US Patent and Trademark Office. It does not mean the mark or product is patented (there are design patents, but they are not indicated by either a TM or (R). They are indicated by a patent number that begins with D.)

    Reasons many food and other companies have TM or (R) all over their packaging include:

    1. each logo can be a trademark or a registered trademark depending on how the mark sample or description in the registration is submitted (red arches, golden arches, or [just] arches [implying arches of any color]);

    or 2. a logo trademark that is modified or combined with other symbols is either a new mark or a completely unprotected new mark. The exception is wordmarks. Google has registered the word/wordmark Google and its colorful Google logotype. So Google is still protected when it combines or modifies it’s logotype with other items because it can rely on its protected wordmark as long as the combined/modified logo still forms the wordmark “Google”.

    The claim of a logo being a trademark can be made by using TM or R as appropriate or having a statement that says something like “the x logo and the word X-words are registered trademarks of X Company”.

    If you want virtually everything on a page to be considered a trademark follow the example of comic book publishers (who fiercely and effectively manage their brands) without giving your design work the “measles” of numerous (R)’s and TM’s. “Use of this Website signifies your agreement to the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.TM & © 2012 Marvel & Subs.” Make sure to see their Terms link.
    http://marvel.com/corporate/terms

  37. Jeff

    “The USPTO does not award patents lightly. To even go to the trouble of applying for a patent means you have something really worth protecting.”

    The patent system in the United States is broken and needs to be fixed. Toast (thermally freshened bread) and the combover (method for concealing partial baldness) are patented. So is swinging in a swing sideways.

    Software patents are issued for things that are obvious and there exists prior art. When sued by the patent trolls, companies that actually produce products and services, usually settle, rather than spend the millions in legal fees it takes to fight.

  38. Some excellent comments from some very informed people. To add some further thoughts from a UK trade mark law perspective:

    (1) (R) can only be used in the UK by the owner of a registered trade mark, else it is an offence, which could result in a fine upon conviction.

    (2) TM can be used by anyone in the UK, as it is merely a notification to others that the owner regards it as its trade mark.

    In addition to acting as a ‘keep off the grass’ sign, using TM can have other benefits from a legal perspective at least. Firstly, if the trade mark (e.g. name) is not initially registrable because, say, it just describes the goods on offer, then owners may be able to get a registration after a few years if they can prove that consumers have now been educated to regard the descriptive word as a trade mark. Using TM alongside the descriptive word can help prove this point.

    Second, using TM alongside a unregistered trade mark (either becuase the mark is un-registrable, or the application is pending/as yet unfiled maybe) can help to establish unregistered trade mark rights in the UK (known as passing off rights), again because it indicates that consumers have been told to regard it as the company’s trade mark.

    (3) Using (R) or TM does indeed puts competitors on notice that these trade marks are ‘taken’. It also sends out other messages too, such as commuicating to potential investors that the people behind the brand are commercially savvy and have invested in the brand, giving a material value to this asset. Also, I think many people use (R) or TM as a way of enhancing their own commercial credibility.

    (4) I should add that the requirements on use of both (R) and TM vary very greatly from country to country, so you should always take legal advice. This jurisdictional variance causes particular headaches on the web, where brands (and so the (R) and/or TM) are seen across the world.

  39. kniff

    Wow, complete craziness in this post.

    1. A patent is NOT a trademark, it is claiming legal ownership over either a design or process for a new unique, non obvious method or apparatus.

    2. A trademark is the name, graphic, or combination thereof in which one is doing business under.

    3. The most important reason to register a trademark is not just to protect its use, but to create an asset with value. look at car companies that get bought out, like Hummer, all that GM wanted from AM General was the rights to use the NAME. When you register your trademark it becomes a legal asset and can be bought, sold, and even borrowed against. An unregistered name is nothing.

  40. Mad

    As I understand we are not talking about register or not to register your logo\name as a trademark. You definitely will get benefits from registering trademark, but really … I still don’t see any reason to put those symbols (® and ™) next to the logo, especially if it’s really small.

  41. Sezy

    I am a complete novice in terms of trademarks, so please bear with me! I have a question: if an organisation has several ‘brands’ that they have trademarked with the (R) symbol (in this case a dance organisation that has developed a certain style of dance), is it necessary, when talking about this company and/or its brands in print, to put the (R) symbol every time you mention it?

    I would have thought that, if the brand is well known within the industry and everyone knows that it is trademarked, then one wouldn’t have to do so.

    Thank you!

  42. Mike

    If you are using the trademark on a product and have been doing so actively like some of the brands stated above, but not registered, it is still grounds for a legal onslaught if someone rightfully (knowingly) uses it. I heard many lawyers dispute me, but the moment you flash 2k and say I have been actively using this trademark and it can be found online I.E. Google, Yahoo ect.. you have a case. Most attorneys will search Google after they use their TM / copyright registration site to make sure that the tm is not being used actively. The key word is actively. Registration makes the process easier and if someone did infringe, there is less of an investigation that has to take place. In the end, cash is boss.

  43. The reason for using these symbols is to let competitors know that you consider the mark to be your trademark. For Federally Registered marks in the United States, you can use the ® symbol (after granting, not after application). When you use the ® symbol, you may be able to recover attorney fees and other money damages. Failing to use the symbol may prevent these recoveries. Since trademark litigation is usually quite expensive, this can have a real impact for small businesses.

    Best Regards,
    Andrew Lahser, Patent Attorney
    Fountain Hills, AZ

  44. scott

    A public company made a press release on 2 products with the circled R and I investigated and they don’t have either registered trademark or have never filed for them. May I file for them and take claim to them? Or would I have no chance of claiming because they used the name (illegally because of the circled R) and would come back saying they used it first?

  45. Yvette

    Scott…. even if someone is using the ® illegally, it still doesn’t mean someone else can swoop in and take the name. It will mean a lot of money legally to prove you were using it before they were and since you aren’t, they would most likely win.

    It’s all in the proof.

  46. That’s really useful information about recovering fees and the importance of actually using the mark, thank you Andrew.

    I am registered, and I do use it.

  47. Hi Amanda, how was the process for you? Is it national? International? Costly?


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