Photographers often consider copyright protections the only way of protecting their work from copycats. However, replication of your work is not the only way other entities can illegally ride on your hard work.
They could also use your name and brand identifiers to market their work, impacting your brand’s reputation and profits. The best way of protecting your work from this kind of infringement is through trademarking your work.
This guide focuses on the different types of trademark symbols you can use on your marks to help minimize the chances of trademark infringement.
What Are Trademarks
A trademark is a brand’s markers and identifiers that help a consumer pick out a product or service from its competition. They can be symbols, words, phrases, sounds, names, or a combination of these elements.
Trademarks can be unregistered or registered, and the status of your trademarks determines the symbols you can use alongside them. These symbols include:
TM (Unregistered Trademark)
When used alongside a brand’s markers such as brand names, logos, blog names, etc., TM informs others that the identifier used is used as a trademark under common law. Common law trademark rights apply on a first-to-use basis, meaning you can claim ownership of a trademark on the premise of being the first to use it to identify your products or services.
But the level of protection for your photography business may not be as pronounced as when you would have your marks registered for trademark protections. Also, enforcing your TM rights can mean incurring high costs. You may not recover damages for infringement unless you own other rights, such as copyrights for the images used.
SM Service Mark
The service mark SM is similar to the TM, only that the SM indicates unregistered markers used in marketing services.
Photography and other forms of creative arts can be viewed as services, so you can use an SM symbol instead of the TM symbol to indicate your unregistered symbols or symbols in the registration process.
® Registered Trademark
The ® symbol is common on products and indicates that the product identifiers are registered trademarks. The right to use the ® on a mark, symbol, or name is granted upon successful trademark registration. In most countries, including Canada, using the ® sign on not duly registered markers is illegal.
Having the symbol on your brand identifiers means that you have an exclusive right to your identifiers and can sue for infringement, including recovering compensation for damages caused.
This guide on trademark symbols explained at Heer Law can help you understand the best options for protecting your business. Informative as it is, it does not eliminate the need to see a lawyer for further guidance.
Countries have different processes for trademark registration. In Canada, trademark registration applications are made through the Canadian intellectual property office (CIPO). CIPO offers three options for registration; online, in-person, and via mail.
The first step before applying for registration is establishing that your trademarks are original in Canada and abroad. So you must start by conducting a Canadian and global trademark search on all trademark databases and online.
After establishing that your trademarks are original, the next step is filing for registration and paying applicable fees. If successful, your trademarks will be duly registered to give you exclusive rights to them.
Scope of Protections
Trademark rights are limited to the years from the date of registration, but you can extend your protections beyond ten years by paying service fees every ten years for as long as you want to maintain those rights.
Also, trademark rights are limited to geographical boundaries. For example, a trademark registered in Canada can only be enforceable in Canada. But you could extend your trademark rights protections globally by registering them with a global trademark body.