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.

Trademarks and service marks are both used to prove that someone owns a product or service; a trademark identifies the owner of a product, while a service mark identifies the provider of a service.

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.

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).

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 IP and considered an intangible 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.

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.