A trademark is a word, phrase or symbol you designate to distinguish your products from those of every other company. A service mark distinguishes your services from those offered by other companies. Federal, state and common law control trademarks and service marks in the United States. The United States Patent and Trademark Office is the leading agency that administers laws and regulations on the federal level. Typically, states administer trademark laws through their secretary of state offices.
Trademark law permits you to display certain symbols and words to signal you are asserting exclusive ownership rights over a phrase or graphic. TM is the symbol for a trademark and it pertains to goods and products. SM is the symbol for a service mark and it pertains to the delivery of a service. The R symbol signifies the USPTO has registered your trademark or service mark. You are not required to use a particular set of words in a sentence to signal your trademark. A single sentence stating your phase or graphic is a trademark of your company is sufficient.
The key factor to determine which symbol applies and when to use it is whether you have registered your mark with the USPTO. TM and SM symbols are for owners who do not intend to register their marks on a federal level and for those who have begun the process, but have not received a final approval from the USPTO. Once the USPTO approves your application, you may use a capital letter R in the center of a circle.
Given the great variety of shapes and sizes of graphics, trademark rules do not specify a single method you must use to display your trademark symbol near your graphic. From a marketing perspective, you do not want to detract from the quality of your logo; however, you should place the symbol close enough to the logo to inform viewers clearly of what is and what is not part of your trademark. The most common location for a trademark symbol is immediately adjacent to the graphic, near the top right or bottom right side.
Displaying any trademark symbol is optional. Your basic rights stem from your use of the trademark; you enhance your basic rights by providing notice. Using trademark symbols or adding a sentence about your mark aids in identifying your mark and preserving your rights. For example, you reduce the chances of misunderstandings with other companies over whether you are simply using a graphic for design purposes or whether you wish to associate your products with that graphic.