White Labelled – The Lowdown on what those IP Logos Mean

The average person will see multiple products, signs, articles and other materials which are protected by one or more intellectual property right each day. They are often accompanied by a logo or wording which identifies they are subject to a particular type of IP protection, for example:

  • ©
  • ®
  • TM

But what do these symbols mean and what are the risks of using them incorrectly?


International copyright symbol

This symbol is used internationally to show a work is intended to be subject to copyright. In the UK, as well as in the majority of other countries, copyright vests automatically upon creation. A copyright owner does not need to use the symbol in order to claim copyright protection. Many rights owners use the copyright symbol, together with a copyright notice, as it makes it far harder for infringers to argue the infringement was innocent.


Symbol for registered or unregistered trade marks

This symbol demonstrates a logo, brand, slogan, word, image or other mark is intended to be used as a trade mark. It can be used in relation to both registered and unregistered trade marks and does not guarantee the relevant mark is a registered trade mark.


Symbol for registered trade marks

The ® sign is the internationally recognised sign for a registered trade mark. This should only be used for registered trade marks in territories where there is a valid trade mark registration for the mark. It should not be used for:

  • unregistered trade marks;
  • trade marks where registration has been applied for but not yet granted;
    trade marks which are registered in a territory other than the one where the ® sign is being displayed.

It is an offence to add the ® sign to an unregistered mark. For registered trade mark owners, using the ® sign has the benefit of clearly putting the public on notice the mark is registered and unauthorised use of the mark would constitute trade mark infringement.


Symbol for Service Marks

The SM symbol is used for Service Marks, described by the International Trade Mark Association as “a word, name, symbol or design used, or intended to be used, by a person for the purposes of distinguishing his or her services from the services of others”. Under English law (as well as the law of many other countries) these marks are not distinguished from trade marks. However, the distinction is made in the US, which is why consumers may sometimes see this symbol. As with the TM symbol, it can be used to identify both registered and unregistered service marks.

Intellectual property right logos and descriptions can be useful in putting potential infringers on clear notice of the existence of the intellectual property right, which in some cases may enable the rights holder to access additional remedies if they bring a claim for infringement.

However, the penalties for misuse of a recognised IP logo or description (particularly where it relates to a registered IP right) can be severe and even lead to criminal liability. Therefore, before using a logo to identify their IP rights, a rights owner should seek appropriate legal advice from an IP specialist to ensure any use is legally compliant.

For more information please contact our Intellectual Property Team.