Trademark vs. service mark? What’s the difference? Both are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office to distinguish a brand’s products and services from those of other businesses. Trademarks distinguish a company’s products, whereas a service mark relates to the services a company provides. Both fall under the category of intellectual property.
Why Apply for a Trademark or Service Mark?
When you’re building a brand, it’s important to differentiate yourself from your competition. Moreover, the last thing you want is for another company to hijack your company name or logo and confuse customers about with whom they’re doing business.
Registering for a trademark or service mark helps prevent that from happening.
The Difference: Trademarks vs. Service Marks
Preventing confusion in the marketplace is the primary purpose of both trademarks and service marks. To obtain either, you must apply with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
What Is a Trademark?
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design (such as a business name or logo) that identifies the source of a product. Trademarks are often recognized as brand names, and they protect the owners of their marks from other businesses in the U.S. using those marks.
Some companies trademark multiple elements of their brand, such as their business names, logos, and slogans. For example, Nike has trademarks on its brand name, its swoosh logo, and its tagline, “Just Do It.”
What is a Service Mark?
Service marks are similar to trademarks, and sometimes you’ll hear people use the term “trademark” when they really mean “service mark.” A service mark distinguishes the services of one company from those of another service provider.
Several examples of well-known service marks include:
- American Airlines
- Holiday Inn
Often, service marks take the form of a slogan or tagline, such as the United Airlines’ phrase “Fly the Friendly Skies.”
Whether a company needs a trademark or service mark can get confusing. For example with Burger King, the company provides a service, but it sells products (like the Whopper). Therefore, many companies register for both trademarks and service marks to protect their brand assets.
What Are the Benefits of Registering for a Trademark or Service Mark?
Filing trademarks and service marks prevent other businesses from using a business’s company, product, and service names; brand slogans; logos; and other distinguishing brand designs.
Relative to a company’s business name, a trademark or service mark offers more extensive protection than only registering the name with the state. While an LLC or corporation receives some protection of its brand name in the state in which it is registered, a trademark or service mark offers protection across all 50 of the United States. With a trademark or service mark, a business gains peace of mind that others won’t copy their branding at both the state and federal level.
How To Apply for a Trademark or Service Mark
The process to register for a trademark or service mark through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office isn’t complicated, but it’s important to complete the application accurately so that it’s not rejected.
Before applying for a trademark or service mark, it’s wise to do some research to make sure another business hasn’t filed for (or is already under) trademark or service mark protection using the same or a very similar mark.
CorpNet’s free basic trademark search tool can help with that, and from there, I suggest doing a comprehensive name search at the state and county level to make sure your desired mark is not already taken.
I also encourage you to enlist the help and expertise of an intellectual property attorney that can offer legal advice as you go through the process.
“TM” and “SM” and ®
Before a company has had its trademark or service mark approved by the USPTO, it can use the designations of either “TM” or “SM” after the name, phrase, or design it wants to protect.
TM and SM show that the company is claiming the wording or symbol as its own, and it can help deter other businesses from using that intellectual property while the USPTO reviews a trademark or service mark request. The ® symbol designates a trademark or service mark that has been registered with and approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The ® symbol identifies a company has an official legal protection of its mark.
When to Apply for a Trademark or Service Mark
A company can take action to help protect its business name, even if it hasn’t yet started selling its products or services.
By filing an “intent to use” (Allegation of Use) form with the USPTO, a company can reserve a trademark or service mark.
An advantage of filing the intent to use application is that it regards the filing date as the “constructive use” date for establishing the business’s rights to the mark. So, if a company files an intent to use application on August 20, and another company files an actual use application on August 24. Even if the first company doesn’t file for actual use and begin to use its mark in commerce until after August 24, that company would be granted the trademark or service mark protection.
The USPTO gives companies six months to file an actual use application after they submit an intent to use application. It also allows six-month extensions to be filed up to 5 times after an initial intent to use application is submitted.
Cost of Registering a Trademark or Service Mark
The cost varies—between $225 and $400 per class to apply for a trademark or service mark—depending on how a business opts to apply for its trademark or service mark. The USPTO offers three initial application options.
If you choose to have an attorney or other party prepare and submit your application for you, you’ll incur some additional expense, as well.
After receiving an application, the USPTO sends a receipt to confirm the filing date. It might take from nine to 12 months for the USPTO to process a trademark or service mark request. When marks are complicated or if issues or conflicts arise during the review process, the USPTO might require more time before approving or rejecting a request.
Length of Time a Trademark or Service Mark Protection Lasts
Once approved, a trademark or service mark is in effect for ten years—and it can then be renewed for another ten years, with no limit on subsequent ten-year terms. As long as all renewal requirements are fulfilled, a business’s trademark or service mark will have an unlimited lifespan.