Trademarks and Service Marks - What's the Difference?

Registered trademark symbol
Trademarks and Service Marks - What's the Difference?. Ivan Bajic / Getty Images

Most businesses have some kind of identification that makes their business stand out, both for advertising purposes and for general business purposes. A business that creates such an identifier, with a name and logo, is creating a trademark or service mark. This article discusses the subject of trademarks and service marks.

Trademarks and Service Marks as Intellectual Property

Trademarks and service marks are part of a subset of business assets called intellectual property, It's property because it has value and is owned by the company.

Intellectual property is considered intangible assets because, unlike a company car or a machine or a desk, these assets have no material substance.

What is a Trademark?

A trademark is specifically a creation to identify a business product. A trademark can be any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination which is used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods of one company from those of others. In short, a trademark is a brand name. For example, a product which cleans windows might have "sparklebrite" and a sparkler as its trademark.

Trademarks are often confused with service marks, which identify a company's services.

What is a Service Mark?

A service mark is the same type of device as a trademark, but service marks distinguish the services of one company from those of another provider. Service marks are often slogans. For example, the service mark of a plumber might be "The Leak Fixers" with or without a distinctive logo.


How Trademarks and Service Marks are Registered

Intellectual property, sometimes abbreviated as "IP," is handled in the same way as other types of property, except that these assets must be registered somehow so it's clear who owns them, and to prevent others from using this property without permission or payment.

Trademarks and service marks are registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

What is the difference between "TM" and "SM" and ®?"

The TM and SM designations are placed with trademarks and service marks to show that someone owns them. The "R" symbol designates a trademark or service mark that has been registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

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