Pin Me

Service Marks vs. Trademarks

written by: Rebecca Scudder•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 9/22/2009

What is the main difference between a service mark and a trademark? How do you distinguish one from the other? We'll answer these questions and give examples of how both trademarks and service marks are used.

  • slide 1 of 1

    Comparing Service Marks and Trademarks

    A trademark is simply a word, name, device, logo, sound, color or a combination of any of these that is used to identify the products of a business from the products of another business. A trademark reveals the source of goods. To put it simply, a trademark is the brand name of the goods. An important fact about a trademark is that it can be renewed forever as long as it is being used in business – this is quite different from patents.

    A service mark, just as the name implies, identifies the name, logo, device or a combination of these to differentiate the service provided by one business to that of the others. A service mark, also names the origin of the service.

    The main difference between service mark and trademark is that trademark is applicable for use only to identify products or goods produced by a business. On the other hand, a service mark is used to exclusively to identify a service.

    A business can use TM (trademark) in their goods or SM (service mark) in their services. The TM or SM symbols are legally bound by local, state or foreign laws.

    trademark1 by Dimitri Castrique The symbol R enclosed in a circle is a federal registration symbol which the business can use upon approval by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The enclosed R symbol cannot be used if the application is still pending. The enclosed R symbol applies only to goods and services that are under federal trademark registration.

    Examples of Service Marks and Trademarks

    Examples of businesses that use Service Marks (SM) are food, insurance and transportation services. An example of the difference between a service mark and a trademark is a restaurant. The restaurant provides food services to clients so it requires a service mark. At the same time, a restaurant sells food products which require the use of a trademark because they are products not services. The labels or names of the food in their menu is called a trademark.

    A vivid example of the difference between a service mark and a trademark is when an environment-friendly restaurant called “Green Restaurant" would fall under the Service Mark category because it is the name of a food services provider. One of the food products in their menu is called “Green Burger" so this food product is a part of the Trademark category because it is the name of particular product not a service.

    Another example of the difference between service mark and trademark is a sound. Sound can be used either as a trademark or a service mark. For instance, NBC’s three tone chime is registered as a service mark. An example of a sound trademark is the Harley-Davidson announcement to trademark its unique exhaust sound of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Harley-Davidson’s move is in reaction to competitors’ plan to copy the Harley sound. This is still an ongoing application as the USPTO is still in the process of determining if Harley-Davidson should be permitted to register the sound.