Fashion Illustration by Juan J. Rivera
       Illustration Credit:  Juan J. Rivera

What do those little letters mean?

The meaning of these little letters may be one of the best-kept secrets in intellectual property law. Follow the tips below and find yourself fashionably protected.

This little guy announces to the world that you are aware of and asserting your trademark rights in whatever it follows.  It is also used when you have filed an application for trademark registration but the process is still pending, and it can be used even if you have no interest in federal registration.  CIAO BELLA™ Gloves shows us that there is a brand of glove named “CIAO BELLA” and the owner believes she can claim superior trademark rights in the CIAO BELLA name when it is used with gloves.  She may be right…but she is still vulnerable to…


CIAO BELLA® Gloves.  What?? How can there be two? There may be many more than two (gasp!), but this one has the coveted ® behind it, which means that it has been granted a federal trademark registration.  It means that the law of the (USA) land has reviewed the mark and deemed that it is not merely descriptive or generic and does not conflict with existing registered marks, and so it is has priority when used with the specific goods or services with which it was registered, in this case, gloves. The clever owners of CIAO BELLA® Gloves can now bring suit in federal court against would-be infringers, and they will be given the presumption of superiority.  In layman’s terms, odds are on their side to win.

Have you ever seen this little guy? It’s no wonder, he’s under-appreciated, it seems.  He stands for Service Mark–the official terminology used when a mark is associated with services, and not goods.  The service mark uses the same trademark application to apply for registration, but it’s applied to services.  There are lots of owners who use this mark, but there are also lots that just use ™ or ®, as the case may be.  Do as you like, but if you use ℠ you will announce to all that you are very, very chic and informed.


Lucky, lucky ©. He’s the most popular kid in all of circle-letter land. Everyone knows who he is and what he does for a living. We all have him at the footer of our websites (or we should, immediately) and we’ve all seen him in books and magazines. Dude gets around.

There is no requirement that you use any of the little letters above, there is only the requirement that you not use them if you are not qualified to do so.  So don’t just slap an ® on your brand please, unless your mark is actually registered. Otherwise, feel free to use them to announce your rights, and show to the world and would-be infringers that you got this.