What Is a Service Mark?

A service mark is a brand name or logo that identifies the provider of a service. A service mark may consist of a word, phrase, symbol, design, or some combination of these elements. A form of intellectual property protection, the mark prevents competing businesses from using names and insignias that could potentially confuse consumers.

Key Takeaways

  • Service marks are brand names or logos that identify a service provider; they can consist of a word, symbol, or design.
  • Service marks are a form of intellectual property and are considered an intangible asset that is provided for the benefit of another.
  • A service mark can carry the standard registered symbol ® if federally registered, while ℠ is used prior to registration.
  • Service marks help prevent the theft of intellectual property under the law and can award the owner of the mark with monetary damages if their mark has been infringed upon.
  • A trademark identifies the source of goods, while a service mark designates the provider of a service; however, "trademark" is commonly used to describe both forms of intellectual property.

How a Service Mark Works

A trademark identifies the source of goods, while a service mark designates the provider of a service. Despite the distinction, the term “trademark” is commonly used to describe both forms of intellectual property.

To register a trademark or service mark, one has to file an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

A “service” is something intangible provided for the benefit of another party. For instance, a major carpet cleaning company would likely use a service mark in its marketing efforts because it performs an activity rather than offering a physical product.

When federally registered, a service mark carries the standard registration symbol ®. "Reg U.S. Pat & TM Off" can also be used. Prior to registration, it is common practice (including legal standing) to use the service mark symbol ℠ (which is the common superscript SM).

Special Considerations

Given the many gray areas of intellectual property law, many are left to question the differences between "TM" and "SM" and ®. The TM and SM designations are reserved for trademarks and service marks to prove that someone owns them. While the "R" symbol designates a trademark or service mark that has been officially registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

While registering a name or logo with the U.S. Office of Patents and Trademarks isn’t expressly required, there are some advantages to doing so. It sends a clear signal to competitors that the registrant enjoys ownership of the mark and provides a “legal presumption of ownership” in all 50 states.

Benefits of a Service Mark

There is a multitude of benefits of a service mark. These include the protection of your intellectual property, preventing other businesses from stealing your idea or product. This identifies it as an item that is not in the public domain and, therefore, subject to legal action if any aspect of the law pertaining to the mark is violated. If anyone does infringe on your idea, you are entitled to monetary damages.

Obtaining a service mark in the United States makes it easier to obtain a service mark in foreign markets.

A service mark also allows a business to create a specific brand identity, which is important in relaying to customers what the brand is about and the quality they can expect. This allows a business to maintain repeat customers who identify with the mark, helping to grow the business.

Real-World Examples

One of the most famous service marks is Nike's phrase, "Just Do It." Almost everyone in the world associates this phrase with Nike. Nike doesn't even have to include its famous swoosh logo on marketing material, which is itself another famous service mark; the phrase "Just Do It" is enough to identify the marketing material with Nike.

Another extremely famous service mark is the golden arches of McDonald's. The golden arches are identifiable all across the globe. Individuals don't even need to see the company name, "McDonald's" when they see the golden arches to know what the establishment is, the quality of the food, and what kind of service to expect.

Service Mark Infringement

One service mark infringement case deals with the famous logo of American multinational company, 3M. 3M's famous logo was emulated by Chinese company Changzhou Huawei Advanced Material Co Ltd, 3N, which clearly had a similar name and created the exact same logo.

Though the two companies did have differences in products and pricing, 3N was able to capture market share using a similar service mark. 3M won the case in China's courts and received Rmb 3.5 million in damages from 3N.

Service Mark FAQs

How Do You Register a Service Mark?

To register a service mark, an application needs to be filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Only when the application is approved can an individual utilize the registered trademark symbol.

How Long Does a Service Mark Last?

In the U.S., service marks, or trademarks, can theoretically last forever, but they have to be renewed every 10 years.

What Does It Cost to Get a Service Mark?

The cost to register a service mark ranges from $225 to $300.

What Does a Service Mark Protect?

A service mark protects intellectual property. Intellectual property can come in a variety of forms, such as logos, phrases, music, and business names.

What Is a Service Mark Search?

A service mark search is when a business owner conducts a search to determine whether or not the service mark that they plan to use is already in use.

The Bottom Line

A service mark is a brand name or logo that identifies a business. Service marks can consist of words, phrases, symbols, designs, or some combination of these elements, which are all a form of intellectual property. Service marks identify a brand and the quality associated with it. They are important in preventing theft of intellectual property and are critical for a business to have.