Companies use the Circle R (notated ®) to show they possess a trademark. Trademarks protect names, logos, and other distinguishing marks from infringement. By using the Circle R, you’re establishing an official, government-backed claim over a certain mark.
While any company can use the TM or SM trademark symbols to claim ownership of distinguishable marks and names, the Circle R shows other companies that your trademark is officially registered for use by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
In other words, while a TM or SM symbol can give your company common law rights for the trademark, the Circle R shows your mark has federal protections that apply nation-wide.
Below we list some common questions, and their answers, that can help you get a better grasp of how to use this symbol.
What is the Circle R?
The Circle R provides notice to other companies that the trademark, or brand name, is already registered with the USPTO. This means that no confusingly similar marks or names can be registered for any reason. Further, it implies that infringing on the registered mark will result in legal action.
Who Can Use the Circle R?
The Circle R is reserved for companies, people, and businesses that:
- Claim a trademark locally under common law
- Apply to place their trademark on the Principal or Supplemental USPTO registers
- Actually have the trademark registered by the USPTO, and maintain that registration
Unless your trademark reaches this last stage (and is published in the Trademark Official Gazette), you can only protect it with the TM and SM symbols. The Circle R requires that the USPTO officially recognize your trademark and add it to their register.
When Is the Circle R Used?
While you aren’t required to use the Circle R with your trademark, you should still generally do so. Generally speaking, the Circle R is just a symbol that says “this trademark is federally registered.” However, failing to properly display the Circle R can open you up to legal issues in the future.
Trademark law has a term called “constructive notice,” which basically means “ignorance of a registered mark is not an excuse for infringement.” However, the U.S. code also specifically states that, in spite of the presence of constructive notice:
In any suit for infringement under this chapter by such a registrant failing to give such notice of registration [by failing to use the Circle R], no profits and no damages shall be recovered under the provisions of this chapter unless the defendant had actual notice of the registration.
Basically, failing to use the Circle R properly has a chance of losing you your infringement case. For this reason, while it’s not required, businesses almost always choose to display the Circle R on their trademarks.
Using the Circle R
In order to fully protect your trademark, you should use the Circle R in all instances where your trademark appears. If you don’t use the Circle R on your trademark you open yourself up to legal problems.
In the case of an infringement, you must prove two things to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board:
- The other business knew your trademark was federally registered.
- They copied it anyway.
While you can generally do this by arguing for constructive notice, this is still a complication you’ll want to avoid if at all possible. If you can’t properly prove the business knew about your trademark, you might automatically end up losing your case.
One exception to this fact appears in the case of written documents. In most written documents you can simply use the Circle R on the first appearance of your trademark, or wherever your trademark is most prominent. If you place the Circle R in the header on the first page for example, you don’t need to continue using it throughout the rest of the document.
Again, there are no true requirements for displaying the Circle R. However, there is a normal standard that almost everyone follows. Generally, you should place the Circle R in either the top-right or bottom-right corners of your trademark.
Applying for a Registered Trademark
There are several steps you should go through when registering a new trademark, detailed below. For the sake of convenience, we’ve also provided some links to articles that cover each topic more broadly.
Prepare to File
There are a few things you should always do when preparing an application for the USPTO:
- Decide on a specific standard character mark, stylized/design mark, or sound mark.
- A standard character mark covers the text used in your trademark.
- A stylized or design mark includes logos and animated trademarks, as well as anything else specifically “designed.”
- A sound mark is a trademark for a song, jingle, or catchphrase.
- Identify what good or service you’re registering your trademark for. This will affect your Trademark Class.
- Create, or purchase, a thorough Trademark Search Report.
- Identify your “basis for filing” (Active v.s. “Intent to Use”)
- Choose whether you want to file on the Principle or Supplemental Register.
Submit Your Application
Applications can require multiple fees, so be sure to check the USPTO website for what fees you might have to pay. Expect a few hundred dollars at a minimum. If any pertinent information changes, such as your address, let the USPTO know about the change immediately.
You should hear back from the USPTO within three months of filing for a trademark. However, it can take a year or even longer for your trademark request to fully process.
Work with the Attorney Assigned to your Application
Once the USPTO determines that you meet all the minimum requirements, they will assign a single attorney to look over your application. This attorney decides whether or not the USPTO will formally register your trademark.
If they decide your application isn’t up to snuff, this attorney can reject your application. In this case, they’ll send you an “Office Action” that basically lists the reasons they denied your application. You can then choose to either fix the problems and refile, or file for a different trademark.
If the examining attorney believes your trademark should be registered, the USPTO will publish your trademark in the Official Gazette. You will also receive a confirmation notice in the mail.
After appearing in the Official Gazette it can still take a few months before your mark is formally registered. If you filed an intent-to-use application, you will also need to file a “Statement of Use” at a later time. Generally, you should file a statement of use within 6 months of your original approval.
If the examining attorney approves your trademark, the USPTO will add it to their official register. At that point you will want to monitor your trademark for any infringement issues.
Note that the USPTO does not look for infringement issues and does not enforce your trademark in any way. It is entirely your responsibility to enforce your trademark. If you don’t enforce your trademark, you might lose it to another company.
Further, you should make sure that your trademark remains registered with the USPTO. The USPTO requires that you renew your trademark between the fifth and sixth years of your trademark, then again between the ninth and tenth. You will need to continue maintaining and renewing your mark as required in the following years as well.
The Circle R is a symbol that shows you’ve gone through the process of registering your trademark with the USPTO. By registering, you gain numerous protections that those without registration don’t have. Only trademarks registered with the USPTO may use the Circle R.
If you need assistance registering for a trademark, you should hire an experienced trademark attorney. Doing so can save you money and heartache in the long run due to how specific your trademark application must be, and how likely you are to lose your filing fees in a rejected application.
An attorney can help you through this process and allow you to focus instead on growing your business.