Why do people use (tm) and (c) and (r)?
September 7, 2011 2:18 PM   Subscribe

What are the rules, or guidelines around the use of the (tm), (r) and (c) signs? They seem to be ubiquitous in corporate English, but as far as I can tell they're both unnecessary and ugly. Is putting a (tm) on a trademark something that's considered a required prerequisite to protecting it?
posted by Sebmojo to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IANAL, but I believe under US law trademarks need to be consistently aggressively defended to prevent dilution. It's also not enough to simply register something, you have to protect it. Putting the little (tm) or (r) is part of that. For copyrights, technically, anything is copyrighted once set in a fixed medium, but often the copyright is followed by "All Rights Reserved" which does carry some modicum of legal meaning.

I also suspect that they're ubiquitous for marketing reasons, as the distinctions between patents, trademarks, and copyrights are somewhat lost on the general public. Putting the little symbol next to something makes it seem more important and/or trustworthy.
posted by axiom at 2:36 PM on September 7, 2011

The Wikipedia style-guide gives a bit of insight on trademarks, and when the symbol should be used (mainly to distinguish it from common phrases)
posted by blue_beetle at 2:37 PM on September 7, 2011

The ™ symbol is basically just to say, "This is our brand identity; don't steal it, please!" Anyone can use it. The ® symbol is similar, but more official. You have to register to use it.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:39 PM on September 7, 2011

Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition: “Although the symbols ® and ™ often accomany trademark names on product packaging and in promotional material, there is no legal requirement to use these symbols, and they should be omitted wherever possible.” (8.162, p. 365)

Essentially, companies use these symbols to indicate that this term is a trademark. Whatever the rule is about defending your trademark, you don’t need to defend someone else’s trademark.
posted by mcwetboy at 2:40 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

You may not be required to defend someone else's trademark, but if the prose is going somewhere "official" (say, in a newspaper column, or an advertisement) the owners of the trademark may send you some rather tart messages about the need to capitalize the name at the very least. I'm not sure what the law may be in this case, but I know that a company where I used to work was very protective of their trademarks and would strenuously pursue these types of situations.

If you are writing for a non-official document, I would simply use the capitalization method and leave it at that.
posted by blurker at 3:19 PM on September 7, 2011

I've seen the trademark symbol inserted liberally into documents in instances where a company's trademark was the same or very close to a word or term that is used generically in the same document (because it's a term of art in the field or something and thus unavoidable). Personally I tend to think of it as the sign of a crummy trademark, but I'm not an IP lawyer nor do I work in marketing, so what do I know.

The copyright symbol is a bit different, because its use was actually required by law at one point (prior to the adoption of the Berne Convention, I think). Why they felt it necessary to mandate the use of a unique symbol rather than the word "Copyright", as is now the case, I'm not sure. The internal style guides of most places where I have worked now suggest using "Copyright [year] [rightsholder]" rather than the symbol, because it's less likely to get mangled by character set problems and other internationalization issues. I think it pops up more than it otherwise would, because Microsoft Word inserts the symbol if you type "(c)" and press space.

Interestingly, according to current law, a different symbol (a P in a circle) is required as part of the copyright notice on phonorecords (sound recordings). Writing the word out, as is allowed with "Copyright", is not allowed by a literal reading of the statue. You would think as a result that you'd see the circled-P symbol around a lot more than the circled-C, since the latter is optional and seemingly deprecated, but that's just the opposite of my experience.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:23 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is a pretty good page to give you an example of how the legal and marketing departments of a large corporation (Adobe) feel about this.

For example, according to Adobe:

Correct: The image was enhanced using Adobe® Photoshop® software.
Incorrect: The image was photoshopped.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 4:24 PM on September 7, 2011

You may not be required to defend someone else's trademark, but if the prose is going somewhere "official" (say, in a newspaper column, or an advertisement) the owners of the trademark may send you some rather tart messages about the need to capitalize the name at the very least.

The rules for newswriting and advertisements are not the same. I can only speak for news: In general, most publications prefer to capitalize trademarks. (They're proper nouns, for pete's sake.) Wham-O would prefer that you call it a "Frisbee flying disc" in print. Most publications will just call it a Frisbee.

Tart letters are meaningless. No symbol is ever required in newswriters. (An old-school editor once told me that if you used "frisbee" in your story, Wham-O would send you a tart letter with a Frisbee flying disc enclosed, so reporters started trying to work the word "frisbee" into obviously non-Frisbee themed stories. They don't do this anymore, which is a bummer.)
posted by purpleclover at 4:56 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

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