The protection of your intellectual property, whether that be a copyright, patent, trademark, or trade secret, is largely up to the owner of the IP. Government agencies such as the United States Patent Office and the United States Copyright Office allow you to register your property legally. However, the policing and enforcement of your IP are fully up to you.


To support trademark owners in protecting their marks, the USPO offers three symbols that mark owners can use to “put the market on notice.” These symbols show others that the word, logo, shape, or phrase has been either claimed or registered as a proprietary trade or service mark. Two of the symbols are used for unregistered marks, and the third serves to protect registered marks. To best protect your rights, it is recommended that every time you use your mark, you add a symbol with it to let consumers and competitors know you’re claiming the trademark or servicemark as yours.

By using the symbols for ™ or SM with your mark, you put others on notice that you have claimed that mark as part of your brand. However, your ownership rights are limited and may only apply to the geographic area where you sell and fulfill your goods or services. Ironically, Starbucks, Nike, and Nintendo use the ™ designation, which stakes a claim, yet falls short of being registered. Their marks are protected by the strength of their brand, global recognition, and their consistency in defending their marks.

Browse more intellectual property law articles.