You’ve likely seen the circled R trademark symbol (®) attached to various companies’ name, slogans, and logos.
If you’re like most people, you’ve also probably wondered what that little circled letter actually means, and what it would take to be able to use it yourself in your own marketing endeavors.
This article will answer both of these questions.
What Does the Circled R Actually Mean?
The circled R signifies that something is a registered federal trademark, creating benefits for the trademark owner, and protection for the trademark.
Companies produce a wide variety of products and services. These companies want to be able to be identified as the source of these products and services. In order to identify themselves as the source or producer of a given product, a company will use a trademark.
Trademarks include brand names, logos, symbols, or really anything that can be used to associate a given product or service with its producer. Examples include the trademarked names “Coca-Cola” and “Xerox,” which are unique and immediately recognizable.
Ownership of Trademarks
Trademarks are property, and can be owned, bought, or sold just as any other piece of property. When you associate a brand name with your company’s product or service, you will want to establish strong rights in your trademark. You will not want some other company using your trademark and creating confusion between your product and theirs.
Registering your trademark with the USPTO is perhaps the best way, from a legal standpoint, to strengthen your brand.
Common Law Rights
First, you need to understand that you don’t need to register a trademark to make it yours. From the moment you begin using a trademark to advertise your product or service you establish what are known as common law rights in your trademark.
It’s a good idea to attach the TM (for trademark) or SM (for servicemark) symbols to your trademark to begin to establish your rights in your mark. By doing so, you have put the “rest of the world” on notice that you have claimed ownership over this particular trademark and that they are not free to use it.
Using this method provides a measure of protection over the trademark, but is not ideal, and provides less protection than if you were to register your trademark. However, before you can register your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) you still need to use your trademark in interstate commerce.
It follows that everyone who seeks trademark registration has established at least some limited common law rights before they can officially register.
After you have used your mark in interstate commerce, you can seek registration with the USPTO. Once you have registered, you may attach the circled R (®) to your trademark. See 15 U.S.C. § 1111. It is only after you have used the mark in interstate commerce and successfully obtained registration with the USPTO that you can begin to use the circled R.
Doing so before you have successfully registered your trademark is a crime.
Benefits of Registration
You may ask why you should go through the trouble of registering your trademark, when doing so is not required. The answer is that the owners of registered trademarks receive several benefits and advantages that are not available to those who have not actually registered their trademarks.
- Your trademark will receive a greater degree of protection under the law.
- You can use the ® symbol, which demonstrates to potential infringers that the trademark is federally protected.
- Your trademark will receive a national, and potentially international, scope of protection.
- It will be easier for you to establish in court that you are the rightful owner of a trademark.
- You will be able to pursue infringement lawsuits against those who use your trademark without your permission.
Registering your trademark will give you increased security in knowing that your property is protected, and that you can defend it if necessary.
How Do I Register My Trademark?
Registration, and the benefits it offers, involves a multi-step process.
- You will file an application for registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
- Your application will be reviewed by an examining attorney at the USPTO to check for compliance with the Trademark Manual of Examination Procedure. This involves checking for problems such as your proposed trademark being unacceptably similar to an already-registered trademark such that it would cause confusion. Your trademark may also be rejected if it is merely descriptive or if it is likely to mislead consumers about the nature or origin of your product.
- If the USPTO finds that your trademark violates one of its requirements, it will reject it and issue an “office action,” stating the reason(s) for rejection, and giving you time to address the problems.
- If the USPTO does not find any problems with your application, it will be “filed for opposition.” This begins a 30-day opposition period during which interested third parties may voice their objections or problems with your proposed trademark. At this time your trademark is “published to the world” in the Trademark Official Gazette.
- If someone comes forward with an objection to your trademark during the 30-day period, they must file an “Opposition Proceeding.” This begins a case before the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board, which will determine whether the party opposing your trademark’s registration has reasonable grounds for doing so. Opposition proceedings themselves could be the subject of another article.
- If no third party objects to your application during the opposition period, or if any case before the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board is decided in your favor, your application will be approved, and your trademark will be federally registered.
This process can take up to 18 months. Even though it may take time, it is vital to protect your rights and your trademark’s uniqueness.
Keeping Your Registration
Once your trademark has been approved and federally registered, you must actually use it during your business operations in order to keep your rights to the trademark. Additionally, you will be expected to take steps to protect your rights through filing infringement suits against unlawful copiers. Failure to use and protect your trademark could result in you losing your registration.