IP Symbology

IP symbology

By Z. Peter Sawicki,James L. Young

We all aspire to be as clever as Robert Langdon, who solves great mysteries by his analysis of symbols in such popular contemporary works of fiction as Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels and Demons” and “The Lost Symbol.”

Symbology – the study of symbols. This article is a brief study of intellectual property symbols, and maybe a few ancillary ones, too. IP symbols? What are those? You’ve likely seen most of them before. Some are statutory, while others are just commonly used to provide general notifications about the nature of the symbol user’s intellectual property.

Walk down the aisle at Target and examine some product packaging. You’ll see these IP notations there, as well as on products themselves, advertising, websites and the like, but what do they mean? Here’s a primer on IP markings (to help improve your pub trivia skill set, if nothing else).

As an IP owner, the use of these symbols, markings or notations is never mandatory, but if used properly and consistently, sometimes provide the IP owner with significant procedural advantages (read: enhanced damages options in case of infringement). We recommend using these notices whenever appropriate in association with our client’s IP.

Trademark Notations:
® – This symbol, used adjacent a trademark or service mark, means the mark has been federally registered by its owner with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (consistent use allows for the potential recovery of profits and damages for infringement; see 15 U.S.C. § 1111).
TM – This notation, used adjacent a trademark, provides notice that the mark owner is claiming some proprietary rights in that trademark (but otherwise has no legal significance).
SM – This notation, used adjacent a service mark, provides notice that the mark owner is claiming some proprietary rights in that service mark (but otherwise has no legal significance).

Copyright Notations:
– This symbol, used in association with the publication of a creative work (e.g., a book, website, assembly instructions, photograph, video, etc.) indicates that the work is covered by copyright (which is true whether or not this notice is provided).
– Sort of obscure, this symbol, used in association with a phonorecord (vinyl disc, cassette tape, CD, etc.) indicates that the sound recording on that media is covered by copyright (again, which is true whether or not this notice is provided).

All Rights Reserved – This notation means nothing in the United States (or anywhere else now). Years ago, some countries did recognize it as an appropriate notice a copyright owner could use to preserve all copyright rights in a work.
– This very obscure symbol, affixed on a mask work registered under the Semiconductor Chip Act of 1984, establishes primafacie evidence of notice of protection (see U.S. Copyright Office Circular 100, if you really want to know more about this).

Patent Notations:

Patent Pending or Pat. Pending – This notation, used in connection with a product or the rending of a service, is an assertion that some aspect of that product or service is covered by a pending U.S. patent application (this has no legal significance).

Patent or Pat. – This notation, along with a patent number (or with an Internet address at which one or more patent numbers associated with the patented article can be found) and used in connection with a product or the rending of a service, is used to establish constructive notice that some aspect of that product or service is covered by an issued U.S. patent (and, in the case of its use on a product sold by the patent owner or its licensee, allows a claim for infringement damages prior to filing suit; see 35 U.S.C. § 287).

Some Other Packaging/Labeling Notations:





This is one specific example of a certification mark, which is a special form of brand that can be registered at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to indicate some sort of assurance of testing by a certifying organization (in this case, by Underwriters Laboratories, which provides safety-related certification services for various technologies).





There are hundreds of agencies worldwide that certify whether a product is kosher. Each agency has its own symbol for doing so, called a hechsher, which indicates that a product’s manufacturer has been vetted by that agency to ensure not only that the product ingredients but also the food preparation processes used are kosher. These symbols are also examples of certification marks.

In “Angels and Demons,” Robert Langdon said: “Symbols in no way confirm the presence of their original creators.” While this may or may not have been true in this fictional context (read the book if you want to know), IP symbols are intended to have just the opposite effect–to alert others that this brand, this content or something about this product or service is exclusive or owned by someone, and you should be aware.

Mr. Sawicki & Mr. Young are shareholders at Westman, Champlin & Koehler. Pete & Jim both have over 30 years of experience obtaining, licensing, evaluating and enforcing patents. Each has also developed an extensive practice regarding the clearance, registration, licensing and enforcement of trademarks. They work closely with clients to understand their values and business plans, and to provide customized and effective strategies for intellectual property asset procurement, growth, management and protection. To contact Z. Peter Sawicki call (612) 330-0581 or James L. Young at (612) 330-0495. Please email them directly at psawicki@wck.com or jyoung@wck.com.