Like most other shoe-string marketers at small companies, I've thrown plenty of ®, TM, and SM marks up in collateral and after any usage of a product name. Half the time, I've done this without actually going to the hassle and expense of registering, trademarking, or servicemarking whatever it was that I was mentioning.
(I also threw plenty of ©'s into documents, under what may well be an erroneous assumption that this made them copyrighted.)
Anyway, it never seemed to matter one way or the other, so I'd throw those ®'s, TM's, and SM's just in case there was someone out there crazy enough to use the terrible product names that I had in play.
A few weeks ago, I was going through the mail at The Writers' Room of Boston, where I am a member. We were temporarily between admins, so I was picking up some of the slack.
I opened an envelope (curiously postmarked Hungary) from on Inernational Data Medium Anstalt of Vaduz, Liechtenstein, invoicing The Room for $1,890 for the registration "to our Register of brand publications of the international trade press on business and economy" of Thank A Booktm.
TM's, SM'd, ©'d, or ®'d, Thank A Booktm is a nice little fundraising program that we've done a couple of times in which we ask people to write a bit about a book that had in influence in their lives (and send us a small donation). We've "published" (i.e., had printed up at Kinko's) two versions of Thank A Booktm, and we may well resurrect it again. The Room is, after all, a small non-profit always looking for ways to support our goal of providing workspace (and community) for Boston writers.
IDM Anstalt requested that we "please send a crossed check payable I.D.M.", at which point our "registration herein above will be published in the issue of 2007. A free CD-ROM is sent postage paid to every registered company."
Well, all I can say is they don't know The Writers' Room very well if they think we're going to fork over almost $2K in exchange for a "free CD-ROM" letting us know that our brand is internationally registered and usable in Paper Goods and Printed Matter (Class 16) and Clothing (namely t-shirts, hats, visors.... Class 25).
I would have thought nothing of this if, low and behold, a couple of weeks later, we didn't get another letter from Hungary, this one from a company called TM-Collection Ltd, asking us to register Thank A Booktm. In exchange for $1650 (a mere pittance), we would receive "a complimentary copy of the pbulication TM-Collection - Edition 2007." TM- Collection lets us know that this is for Goods and Services Classes 16 and 25, without actually telling us what they are. Thanks to IDM, we're smart enough to know it's Paper Goods and Clothing.
Adding to the aura of TM-Collection officialdom, the invoice is in both French and English,which certainly makes more sense than Hungarian and English. And let's me brush up on moi officialese: Conservez la partie ci-dessus aux fins administratives...)
Here's what the TM folks say about themselves on their web site:
Our main business activity is publishing TM-Collection, an unofficial, but international yearly catalogue of newly registered trademarks. Our goal with the publication is to create a guide for branded goods and services. Turning the pages of TM-Collection, the reader can get a global impression of new trends regarding trademarks - brands, designs, logos, newly established companies, etc.
'TM-Collection' is a free catalogue; it is distributed in both Europe and overseas in a targeted way as the content thereof is international. We send it mainly to professional organizations, business associations, chambers of industry and commerce but we will plan to distribute free copies at international fairs and exhibitions as well.
Oh, I get it. I pay them $1650 for inclusion in a free catalogue. And the benefit to me is.....what exactly? No mention of "unofficial" in the official looking bill they sent.
IDM-Anstalt doesn't appear to have a web site, but they do appear on the International Trademark Association's Warning List about unsolicited trademark registration services.
Nice little racket they've got going in Hungary, wouldn't you say?
Send off a bunch of official looking invoices. Someone doesn't look too closely at them. Figures that somewhere along the line someone or other filed for an international registration of some sort.
But just to be on the safe side: Thank A Booktm. Thank A Booksm. Thank a Book®. Thank a Book©.
Better to err on the side of caution, don't you think.