What is the Difference Between a Trademark and Service Mark?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 27 March 2020
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The major difference between a trademark and service mark is the types of business offerings that each type of mark can be used to protect. A trademark is typically used to protect an actual product that is manufactured and sold as goods to customers or other businesses, while a service mark is used to protect the identity of services offered to customers. The term “trademark” is often used as a catchall phrase to refer to a trademark or a service mark, though different visual identifiers are typically used for each mark. Both a trademark and service mark, however, provide similar types of protection to words, logos, or other types of identifiers associated with a business.

While the term “trademark” is often used in association with either type of mark, there are differences between a trademark and service mark and how each should be used. In general, a trademark is used to identify a brand name or business identifier that is associated with products manufactured and then sold. A trademark refers to actual goods that a company produces, while a service mark indicates a service that a company provides to customers. This type of service could be just about anything a company may provide, and the service mark will usually protect the specific name for the service used by the company.


Other than this primary difference, however, a trademark and service mark function in much the same way. Both types of mark are used to indicate something that is offered by a particular company, and used to protect ownership over images or words used to identify that product and associate it with the company. A trademark and service mark are also differentiated by the way in which each one can be indicated in print. Trademarks are typically accompanied by the symbol “TM” to indicate an established trademark, while a service mark is indicated by “SM.”

Both a trademark and service mark can be registered with an appropriate government agency to provide greater protection for the mark. The process by which a mark is registered is basically the same for either type of mark, though the paperwork for registration usually includes an area to indicate if the registration is for a trademark or service mark. Once a mark is registered, it can then be identified using the ® mark, regardless of whether it is a trademark or a service mark. A trademark and service mark both provide the same amount of legal protection; the differentiation serves primarily to indicate the two major types of business offerings.



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