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  • Writer's pictureCassandra L. Wilkinson

New Icons Attempt to Make Intellectual Property Concepts More Accessible to Public

Most of the general public is now familiar with the TM and ® symbols used in trademark talk. The TM symbol is generally used after a word, phrase, or symbol to identify the preceding as a trademark or service mark with the associated common law rights to the mark. Service marks sometimes, though less commonly, use the SM symbol. The ® symbol is also used in a similar way with the key distinction being that the latter is reserved for trademarks or service marks registered by a country’s designated trademark office. The use of the ® symbol is serious business. In fact, in some countries, it is illegal to use the ® symbol improperly. The copyright world also has a symbol, ©, which is universally understood to denote copyrighted material.
These symbols were introduced in the United States with the Lanham Act in 1946. As the prime piece of federal trademark legislation in the in the States, the Act was dedicated to strengthening trademarks and reducing infringement and false advertising. Prior to 1946, it was common for a trademark registrant to identify its mark on goods or services with "Reg. U.S. Pat. Off." The ® is a much cleaner and easier method of classifying trademarks to the general public.
In a continuing effort to make the intellectual property world more accessible to a growing number of entrepreneurs and to facilitate communication globally, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has released into the public domain new icons to assist in understanding, or at least communicating about, the world of intellectual property. The concepts can be difficult to understand for newcomers, and according to Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the USPTO Russ Slifer, the purpose of the icons was “creating a universal language to help describe these concepts via graphic design. By putting a visual mark on common intellectual property notions, we hope to help spread awareness about IP while engaging with the public.” You can read the Deputy Director Slifer’s complete blog, which describes the goals of the project, here.
On August 28, 2015, the United States Patent and Trademark Office partnered with the Noun Project, a Web Collection of icons with a goal of “Creating, Sharing and Celebrating the World’s Visual Language,” to create icons to represent intellectual property concepts in a way that are clear and understandable to a worldwide audience. To achieve this end, a wide range of individuals, from artists with little knowledge of IP to IP professionals, were brought together in an Iconathon. The group spent the entire day discussing, designing, evaluating, and finally judging the designs, which resulted in the nineteen icons shown here.

In order to test the success of the group, try to match the word from the word bank below with the proper icon. You can check your answers here.
So, how did you do, or perhaps better asked, how did they do? If they did well, don’t be surprised if you see these icons and more in the future. Regardless, the United States Patent and Trademark Office continues in its efforts to make itself more relevant and accessible to new users.

Word Bank

Design Patent


Plant Patent



Large Inventor

Utility Patent

Pro Se

Small Inventor

Trade Secret

Intellectual Property


Prior Art

Service Mark


Pro Bono


Patent Pending

Micro Entity


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