Why and how to use the symbols ®, TM and © ?
Many customers regularly ask us about these famous R symbols in a circle (®), TM and C in a circle (©). They can be seen everywhere, and yet their meaning is far from being clear to everyone. Most of the people interviewed do not know the difference between these three symbols. For them, they are relatively equivalent. Some even think it is compulsory to use them in France. Still others insist on registering their trademark with the symbol ®, which they consider indispensable.
So we thought it was time to redo a note about the ® symbols, TM and ©.
Meaning of the symbols ®, TM and ©
Contrary to some preconceived ideas, these 3 symbols do not all apply to brands. Indeed, if the symbols ® and TM are relative to trademarks, this is not the case with the © symbol.
The symbols ® and TM
These two symbols have a slightly different meaning. The ® means "Registered", and therefore the trademark is registered. This means that the trademark has been registered. It has met the requirements of the trademark office in question. The registration procedure has then been completed. A certificate of registration has been issued and the registration date has been published.
The symbol TMmeans "trademark". In principle, it is affixed when the trademark is used without having been registered, or when it has been registered but is not registered.
In the first case, it may be a mark with little or no distinctiveness. The owner knows that he will not succeed in obtaining registration. See our article on distinctivenessIn this case, we explain why a mark must be distinctive and why a descriptive mark is likely to be refused. In this situation, the proprietor may wish to draw the attention of the consumer and his competitors to the fact that he still wishes to appropriate the name in some way. This strategy is, however, rather useful in the United States, as explained below.
In the second case, the registration procedure is ongoing but not yet complete. As the registration certificate has not yet been issued, the trademark is not officially registered. It is therefore a temporary symbol, until the ® can be used.
The © symbol
This symbol means "copyright". Although copyright law as such does not exist in France, it is mostly assimilated to copyright. Indeed, copyright is an Anglo-Saxon term for an intellectual property right that has the same purpose as French copyright law, namely to protect works of the mind. These works can be music, a photo, a drawing...) The main difference between the two is that copyright is registered in an official register kept by an official body. The latter is most of the time the body that registers trademarks (the equivalent of the INPI).
The use of the © therefore implies in principle that the work in question has been registered in an official copyright register. However, in France, there is no such register. Indeed, copyright is a right that arises from the sole fact of creation. It does not require any registration to exist. Nevertheless, it is necessary, in the event of a dispute, to prove the existence of the right. And above all the date of birth of this right. In the absence of an official register, other means of proof are therefore used, such as time stamping certified by a bailiff.
Other lesser-known symbols
It should be noted that new symbols have emerged over the years, generated by the digitization of works subject to copyright.
First of all, there is the "copyleft" symbol, which represents the reverse copyright, i.e. a C to the left): . This is a double play on words. On first reading, the terms "right" and "left" are contrasted. On the other hand, the word "left" is the past participle of the verb "leave", which means "to leave, to abandon". In fact, this symbol indicates thata work is free of rights. This term implies, however, that all works using the latter must also be subject to copyleft. Thus, an author cannot appropriate and attempt to market an earlier work after having modified it somewhat.
Do you also know the "creative commons" symbol? This refers to the licenses of the same name, inspired by the free licenses, as well as the open source and open access movements. It refers to licences to facilitate the use of works. The author may, depending on the license chosen, authorize third parties to reproduce and disseminate a work. In all cases, the user must cite the name of the author. However, the author may impose additional restrictions. For example, the prohibition of commercial use, the prohibition of modifying the work, or the obligation to share a work derived from the original work under the same conditions as the original work. Different logos exist, but all of them contain the letters CC :, or .
Symbols of Anglo-Saxon origin optional in France
All these symbols come from Anglo-Saxon countries. Therefore, they have no real legal value in France. Moreover, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Intellectual Property (of which France is a stakeholder) provides that "No sign or mention of the registration of the trademark (...) shall be required on the product for the recognition of the right".
In the United States and some other countries, however, they are of significant importance. First of all, their affixing on a sign that does not meet the criteria is considered a fraud. Such fraud may then lead to prosecution.
In addition, the symbol TM is of particular interest since the United States is one of the few countries that can obtain a right to an unregistered trademark. Thus, the use of the TM symbol emphasizes the fact that the name is considered a trademark by its owner. Through continuous and sufficiently broad use, it will subsequently be able to claim the same rights as a registered trademark owner. This will enable him to take action for infringement and to obtain damages.
In France, on the other hand, there are no rules governing the use of these symbols. The use of these symbols is not controlled, nor is their misuse punishable by law. However, we advise you to use them sparingly, in connection with real intellectual property rights. This avoids misleading consumers.
The informative and deterrent role of ® symbols, TM and ©
Although the law does not stipulate anything about the use of the symbols ®, TM and ©, their use has two major interests. Firstly, it makes it possible to inform the public that it is a protected right. Secondly, it gives a chance to dissuade potential third parties from counterfeiting them.
Informing third parties of the protection
The procedure for registering a trademark in France can take up to 6 months, or even longer in case of opposition. It can be even longer in many other countries. Consequently, the use of the symbol TM makes it possible to inform third parties that the user of the trademark has registered it and is awaiting its registration. In this way, it cuts the grass from under the feet of any possible unscrupulous people who might find the idea good and wish to register the trademark first. It should be noted that the publication of trademark applications does not take place before 3-4 weeks in France. During this time, the application is totally invisible, which makes it all the more useful to use the symbol TM. Indeed, after publication, third parties can consult the trademark on the INPI databases and be aware of the application.
The symbol R surrounded by a circle (®) is even more interesting since the general public knows it better. The latter associates it quite easily with a registered trademark, as many famous brands use it on their logo. Putting it on your logo will inform the public that the trademark is protected.
To mention a copyright, the symbol C surrounded by a circle (©) should be used instead. It is very often seen in connection with photographs, images, or websites... At a time when with a simple click you can copy an image on the Internet to reuse it a little further, it is necessary to apply this type of logo. It is also possible to add a statement such as "this content is subject to copyright, reproduction prohibited". It should be borne in mind that the public has only vague notions of intellectual property. It is therefore important to practise a form of prevention, by informing them of what they have the right to reproduce or not.
Discourage third parties from reproducing the right in question
The other interest of these logos is to avoid certain reproductions. Of course, people in bad faith will not prevent themselves from copying the right, but those in good faith could be dissuaded from doing so. Thanks to the information given by the logo, they understand that the author of the work or the creator of the trademark wishes to protect his right to copy.
Such a statement also suggests that the trademark or copyright will potentially be defended by its owner. People who would like to copy them therefore understand that there is a risk of action against them. However, no one wants to be sued for infringement during their lifetime :) The use of the symbols of the symbols ®, TM and © can therefore be particularly dissuasive.
To conclude, simply remember that the symbols ®, TM and © each have their own meaning. Although their use is not regulated in France, it is preferable to use them wisely, in order to be sure to inform third parties of the protection you claim on a right, and to dissuade them from copying it.