What is a Service Mark?

Service marks, often considered a subset of trademarks, act to distinguish the services of one business entity from those of a different business entity.

Trademark vs. Service Mark

Many people in the public, and even legal trademark scholars, use the word trademark to cover both trademarks and service marks, however there is an important and subtle difference. Trademarks serve as source identifiers for goods and products, for example Apple for computers and Coca-Cola for soda. Conversely, service marks also serve as source identifiers for services such as McDonalds for fast food services or Granite Trademark Services for legal trademark work.

A beauty of a service mark, Granite Trademark Services for “legal services.”

The correct way to cover both trademarks and service marks correctly would to be to refer to them collectively as “marks.” The only common area where both are referred to as marks is when people talk about collective marks or certifications marks. Because the word “marks” has multiple meanings, and is not commonly known as describing trademarks and service marks, most writers refer to trademarks and service marks as simply “trademarks.”

Many trademark attorneys get offended when people use “trademarks” to mean service marks. Unsurprisingly, many in the public find lawyers to be condescending and pretentious. The approach to this blog is to use trademarks as the catchall word for trademarks and service marks because the blog is geared for trademark attorneys and practitioners as well as the public at large.

Common Law Service Mark Designation

To indicated a registered trademark or service mark, the owner should use the registration symbol, i.e. ®. However, unlike common law trademarks, which are designated by TM in superscript, service marks are designated with an SM in superscript. TM is used for Trademarks and SM is used for Service Marks because it is the logical abbreviation of the two word/phrases. So Granite Trademark Services, as a common law service mark, would be designated as Granite Trademark Services℠ (or as the logo version is seen above).

Service Mark Owner’s Rights

As with all trademarks, service marks enjoy common law protections and federal protection if they are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Under common law service marks will receive protection from competitors in the area where the service mark operates from adopting a confusingly similar name. While common law rights are useful, for service companies hoping to become larger regional or national brands, such as restaurants, a federal registration is crucial.

When filing an application for a mark at the USPTO only for services in Classes 35-45 are technically “service mark” applications. However, to make things less confusing the USPTO does not get too hung up on the distinction between a service mark and trademark application. The online application portal is called the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). The application landing page does say Trademark/Service Mark Application, showing the USPTO does know of the distinction.

The header where trademark and service mark applicants apply for USPTO protection.

The process for applying for a trademark or service mark is the same. Additionally, a USPTO registered service mark receives all the same protections and benefits that any other registered mark is afforded through the registration system. There are no special benefits given to service marks and there are no benefits not afforded to service marks that are given to trademarks.

Do you have any questions about the differences between a service mark or a trademark? Do you have a preference on how to say or write when discussing trademarks and service marks? Leave a comment or contact us.

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