infringing upon a trademark

Registered Trademarks 101: What Does an R With a Circle Around it Mean?

By John DiGiacomo

If you buy a product and see on the packaging an R surrounded by a circle — what is commonly called the “Circle R” or the ® symbol — that signifies that the manufacturer or seller of the product has registered its trademark with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (“USPTO”). The Circle R symbol must be placed near the registered trademark and cannot adorn packaging, products or advertisements unless the trademark is validly registered. This means that if a trademark registration is lost, then the owner of the trademark must stop using the Circle R with reference to the trademark.

Trademarks are a form of intellectual property that protect symbols, words, phrases, designs, logos and other unique marks that identify a commercial source for goods and services. Having a trademark allows trademark owners to prevent others from using the mark and enables owners to sue for trademark infringement. Use of the Circle R by trademark owners makes consumers and competitors in the marketplace aware that the trademark is officially registered and in good standing. Note that both aspects are important. For the best legal protection, trademarks must be registered. But registration must be periodically renewed with the USPTO. Thus, using the Circle R symbol also denotes that the owner has maintained the registration and has not otherwise lost registration (through non-use and court or administrative action). Here are a few other FAQs about the circle R symbol:

Do trademark owners have to use the Circle R?

Trademark owners are not legally required to use the Circle R symbol. However, legally, it is advisable to use the symbol.

If use is not mandatory, why bother using the Circle R?

There is one practical reason to use the Circle R symbol even though it is not legally required: use of the symbol suggests pride in one’s trademark which also suggests pride in one’s product or service. That can be important to retaining consumer loyalty.

However, more importantly, using the Circle R symbol can be legally significant if trademark infringement litigation is filed. To maximize the possible damages that can be recovered in an infringement lawsuit, the owner of the trademark must prove that the infringer had actual knowledge of the registered trademark. Using the Circle R symbol is one method of proving actual knowledge.

Where should the Circle R be placed?

Generally, the Circle R should be placed on the product, packaging, or advertising whenever and wherever the trademark appears. Most often, the Circle R is located — in smaller size — to the lower right or upper left of the trademark. In written materials, the Circle R symbol should follow the first mention of a trademarked word or phrase.

What is the history of the Circle R symbol?

Historically, the Circle R symbol was called a RACOL which stood for “registered & authorized company logo.” The symbol was specifically recognized and given its current legal significance in the US when the Trademark Act was amended in 1946. See 15 U.S. Code § 1111.

For more information or if you have questions about creating and registering a trademark, contact the trademark lawyers at Revision Legal at 231-714-0100.

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