What's the deal with TM, SM, ®
It seems like these symbols are all over the place but what do they mean and are you allowed to use them. Just to be clear, we’re not Lawyers here and this blog post isn’t legal advice by any stretch of the imagination (only an Attorney you hire can give you that) but there are some basics you should know and can consider if you’re thinking about trademarking your physical therapy practice’s logo or name.
What is a trademark anyways?
A trademark is a form of intellectual property. It something that allows an owner to lay claim to a recognizable sign, design, word and identifies a specific product or service. A trademark can be held by an individual or a company or any other legal entity and then used. In practical terms trademarks exist for entities to protect something that identifies them and protect them from others using the same or similar names and marks ultimately confusing end customers and hurting the original trademark holder.Trademarks have a long and storied history with the modern age of trademark law beginning sometime around the late 19th century.
Ok, now you have the basics. Out in the wild, you’ll see different marks applied. They don’t mean the same thing and you need to be careful about which one you use.
TM and SM
These are fairly ubiquitous out in the world. You’ll TM (trademark) and SM (service mark) all over the place. There are no formal requirements to apply a TM to your practice logo or your practice name. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:
Basically, you’re just telling the world that you are laying claim to the word or image or other sign/symbol but there’s no backing behind it that the word or image has been registered through an official sanctioned process. There are different schools of thought as to whether it is useful to put a TM on your logo or practice name. On the one hand, it is essentially free and very easy. On the other hand, the legal protections it offers aren’t overly strong.Visually, some argue that having a TM can visually detract from your logo if it’s not done well. One should also be careful not to infringe on anyone else’s trademark. It’s not a good idea to use a similar name to other practices in your area.
® - The registered trademark symbol
One of the big questions is whether you will try and go it alone or work with an attorney if you do choose to file for the mark. Working with an attorney will require you to invest but may also increase your chances of success especially if you’ve never done it before.
The last thing you need to know is that once you register a trademark, it doesn’t last forever. You will need to continue to use the registered trademark in commerce. At the end of 6 years, you need to file a document that says you are still using the mark . Trademarks would then need to be renewed every 10 years.
How to decide what to do
The bottom line
A trademark can be as simple as a adding a TM to your logo or name or as much as filing a formal trademark application. Only you can decide the value on that after weighing to cost time and other considerations.