Your brand is likely to be one of the most important assets that your business has, communicating instantly to consumers your reputation, identity and values. Yet it seems that many people don’t see the point in spending money seeking to protect their trade marks.
It is a fact that the symbol TM actually has very little meaning: legally, anyone can use the TM symbol anywhere, just to indicate that they themselves consider a particular word, phrase or logo to be a trade mark. However, that is only half of the story. Simply making repeated use of any word, phrase or logo to indicate that particular products or services come from your business slowly adds up to give you rights that you could ultimately rely on to seek to prevent someone else from using a confusingly similar word, phrase or logo. Marking important parts of your branding with TM indicates to the world that they are of value to you, and may warn people off copying those elements (particularly if they themselves are unsure what TM means!). Keeping copies of material showing that branding (with or without the TM symbol) will help you if ever you need to rely on your trade mark rights acquired through use.
A far more powerful symbol is ® (R in a circle), and this one should be handled with care. It indicates that a sign (usually, but not always, a word, phrase or logo) is registered as a trade mark. It is an offence in the UK to falsely represent that a mark is registered, so the symbol should only be used next to a mark used exactly as registered. Registration of valuable trade marks largely cuts out the need to rely on user rights. A Trade Mark Registration provides a legal presumption of your ownership of a mark and your exclusive right to prevent others from using the same or a confusingly similar mark for the same or similar products or services. That means that if a competitor or other company starts to use an identical or confusingly similar mark, and/or tries to stop you from using a sign that you are committed to, you can simply wave your Registration Certificate and, unless or until the other side can prove otherwise, you will be deemed to have legal rights in the mark. By comparison, if you don’t have a Registration of your own and a conflict does arise, you could be forced to spend considerable amounts of time and money simply proving that you have rights in a trade mark, or face the prospect of being forced to change your name or logo at very short notice.
So rather than being totally meaningless, the TM symbol is part of the jigsaw of elements that add up to strong brand protection. And if a word, phrase or logo is really important to your business, a Trade Mark Registration for that mark is a valuable insurance policy that could prove to be very meaningful indeed if you ever find yourself in a dispute.