The Difference Between ™, © or SM

The Difference Between ™, © or SM

Every small business owner should know the difference between a trademark, a registered trademark and a service mark.


Everywhere you look, whether it’s in a magazine ad or on the label of a piece of clothing, you will see either three symbols that represent trademarks, TM, SM or ®. Aren’t they all trademark symbols and mean the same? Not quite. Here’s why.

The TM Symbol

Ohio State

Example: The TM symbol is a different font, bold and uppercase, situated here on the lower right hand corner of the logo.

The TM symbol is a means for a business to notify consumers that a specific design, logo or phrase is claimed by that business. It also puts on notice any potential competitors for that specific design, logo or phrase. A business does not need to file any paperwork in order to use the TM symbol. Thus, any business may use the TM symbol if it wishes to notify both the public and competitors if it wishes to use a specific mark.

The ® Symbol

University of Florida

Example: The ® symbol is an uppercase R in a different font, bold and uppercase within a circle, situated here on the lower right hand corner of the logo.

The ® symbol is also a means to notify consumers that a logo or design is claimed. However, only businesses or individuals who have been granted registration by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office may use the mark. Applicants cannot use the ® symbol while their applications are pending. The ® symbol is only used with regards to the goods and services listed on the registration certificate issued by the USPTO. Federal registration also grants the registrant more rights.

The SM symbol

Service Mark

Example: The SM symbol is a different font, bold and uppercase, situated here in the middle of the logo

The SM symbol is similar to the TM symbol. Businesses that provide services to consumers may use the SM as a service mark. No registration is required to add the SM symbol to a mark.

How to use

A basic tenet of trademark law is consumer protection. Therefore, the key to using the TM, SM and ® symbols is consistent use, which always puts everyone, especially competitors on notice. The TM, SM and ® symbols allow businesses to protect their intellectual property, and also notifies businesses not to use a mark or phrase already in use. Therefore, consumers benefit from the association between the mark and the goods or services associated with its respective owner.

Symbols should be placed close to the mark and obvious

Because trademark symbols are used to notify that a mark is claimed, they should be placed in a location close to the mark, either as a superscript, subscript or right next to it in either a different font, bold or italicized. What is most important is that the symbol is large enough and close enough to the mark that it can be recognized.


Using the mark within a body of text:

The furniture at IKEA ® is very modern.

McDonald’s uses the phrase I’m lovin’ it ®.

I was rooting for Florida TM in that game.

Using the mark next to a design:

tm use in design

Closing considerations

Overall, when considering using a mark, you should keep in mind that your business will be associated with that mark as it serves as a symbol of your business and the goods or services you provide. Additionally, it is a wise idea to do a search for marks you are interested in using before you actually use them to see if anyone else is using them. If you think your mark is unique, consider registering it either with your state or with the USPTO.