If you pay attention to labels and product packaging you might begin noticing lots of little icons. Each icon has a legal significance and understanding the differences among them is really important for entrepreneurs and business owners. In this post we will cover the five most common icons found on labels and packaging and explain what they mean and how and when you can use them.
Service Mark (SM) and Trademark (TM)
As we have mentioned multiple times on this blog, once you begin using a name, logo, or slogan in interstate commerce, you can claim common law protection of that brand. Common law protection simply means you can petition a court to enforce your trademark rights, however, it doesn’t mean you have a federally protected trademark.
In connection with these common law trademarks are the SM and TM symbols. TM stands for trademark and SM stands for service mark. This is usually (but not always) an indication that the brand is not yet federally registered. But the owner is still claiming the rights to the name.
® – The “Circle R”
If a mark owner takes the next step and seeks federal registration of a trademark or service mark, they can then begin using the “Circle R” icon, but only after the USPTO actually registers the mark.
If you see a mark using the ® and you want to use a similar mark, you should definitely research the mark in the USPTO database to see if your use would conflict with that prior registration.
© – The “Circle C”
The Circle C (sometimes written out as “Copyright 2014”) is an indication that the creator or owner of that work is claiming copyright protection. Unlike trademark law, the owner of a creative work can use the Circle C icon as soon as they have made an original work of authorship, regardless if they have a copyright registration for the work at question. In fact, the vast majority of works subject to copyright protection are not registered simply because registration is not required to claim copyright (although registration is strongly encouraged).
Pat. Pend. or U.S. Patent No. ###
If an inventor begins selling an invention prior to receiving a patent on the invention he or she will likely list in tiny text Patent Pending (or just Pat. Pend.) on the product to give notice to the world that a patent application is pending with the USPTO. If granted, the inventor can then list “U.S. Patent No.” and then the patent number on the product to provide notice of an actual registration. In fact, the law requires this notice if the inventor wants to seek full damages in a patent infringement lawsuit.
If you are confused as to what icon to use on your labels and packaging, or if you need help securing your trademark rights, then visit MightyMarks.com to learn more!
Image: Thinkstock/Mario Salis
*This article is very general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Readers with legal questions should consult with an attorney prior to making any legal decisions.