Perhaps you’ve never thought about disclosure marks or registered trademark symbols. You’re exactly like a former version of us, blissfully unaware of all the placements, restrictions, and general nuances that go into those symbols simply appearing and existing in text.
We’re here to change all that. Because now that we know, we’ll never be able to unsee what we’ve seen. And we like to pass on the curse of curiosity.
Federally Registered Marks
The first thing to know is that there are very few actual rules, but a LOT of opinions.
We’ll start with the registered trademark symbol — ®. You may have heard it called the “R,” “R ball,” or even “R with the circle around it.” Its presence indicates that the word, words, or symbol that appeared directly ahead of it has been registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and is regulated by federal law. Do note that state registrations do not get you an ®. Intellectual property attorney Kelley Keller, Esq. says brands aren’t legally required to use the symbol, but there can be consequences if you don’t: “In an enforcement action, you will forfeit your right to recover lost profits and money damages unless you can prove the defendant had actual knowledge that your mark was registered prior to the infringing activity.”
Our friends ™ and ℠ are both unregistered (meaning not legally regulated), but not unimportant. The trademark symbol is what a ® was before it was official, and is used for the “goods” half of “goods & services.” The “SM,” or the service mark symbol, is used to indicate an unregistered trademark for marks that represent the services set. It’s not used as frequently. Maybe you’ve never seen one. But you’ll probably notice one now that you know they’re out there.
If a business is offering both goods and services, they’ll be using ™ to cover it all.
Where can these marks live? You’ve got two options: superscript or subscript directly after the word(s) or symbol in question. This placement isn’t enforced, but to date, we haven’t seen any deviation from the norm.
What happens if you’ve got a trademarked word appearing at the end of the sentence (something only copywriters will ask themselves)? First, just try to avoid that situation if it’s within your power to do so. But if not, the end punctuation must go after the symbol. Otherwise, you’ve suddenly got Nike?®. You can’t just go around giving trademarked brands new punctuation.
Do you use them every time the trademarked word(s) or symbol appears? Heck no! Unless the client asks you to, and then you probably should. But it’s not legally required. Using it on the first reference or in the most prominent display of the word/symbol is enough.