Definition of service mark


What is a service mark?

A service mark is a brand name or logo that identifies a service provider. A service mark can consist of a word, phrase, symbol, design, or some combination of these elements. A form of intellectual property protection, branding prevents competing companies from using names and logos that could mislead consumers.

Key takeaways

  • Service marks are trade 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 person.
  • A service mark may carry the standard registered symbol ® if it is federally registered, while ℠ is used before registration.
  • Service marks help prevent theft of intellectual property under the law and can award the trademark owner monetary compensation if their trademark has been infringed.
  • A trademark identifies the source of the products, 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 products, 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, an application must be filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

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

When registered at the federal level, a service mark carries the standard registration symbol ®. You can also use “Reg US Pat & TM Off”. Before registration, it is common practice (including legitimation) to use the service mark symbol ℠ (which is the common superscript SM).

Special Considerations

Given the many gray areas in copyright 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 show that someone owns them. Whereas the symbol “R” designates a trademark or service mark that has been officially registered in the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

While it is not expressly required to register a name or logo with the US Patent and Trademark Office, 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 brand

There are a multitude of benefits to a service brand. These include protecting your intellectual property, preventing other companies 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 relating to the trademark is violated. If someone infringes on your idea, you are entitled to monetary compensation.

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

A service brand also enables a business to create a specific brand identity, which is important in conveying 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 brand, helping to grow the business.

Real world examples

One of the most famous service marks is Nike’s phrase, “Just Do It.” Almost everyone associates this phrase with Nike. Nike doesn’t even have to include its famous swoosh logo in marketing collateral, which is itself another famous service brand; the phrase “Just Do It” is sufficient to identify the marketing material with Nike.

Another extremely famous service brand is McDonald’s golden arches. The golden bows are identifiable throughout the world. People don’t even need to see the name of the company, “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 case of service mark infringement concerns the famous logo of the American multinational company 3M. The famous 3M logo was emulated by the Chinese company Changzhou Huawei Advanced Material Co Ltd, 3N, which clearly had a similar name and created the exact same logo.

Although the two companies had differences in products and prices, 3N was able to capture market share by using a similar service brand. 3M won the case in the courts of China and received 3.5 million rupees in damages from 3N.

The bottom line

A service mark is a brand name or logo that identifies a company. 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 the theft of intellectual property and are critical to a business.

Service marks faq

How do you register a service mark?

To register a service mark, an application must be filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Only when the application is approved can a person use the trademark symbol.

How long does a service mark last?

In the US, service marks or trademarks can theoretically last forever, but must be renewed every 10 years.

How much does it cost to get a service mark?

The cost of registering 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 trade names.

What is a service mark search?

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

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Mark Holland

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