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What is the difference between a trademark and a service mark?

You have worked hard to create your California business. To protect your business, products, services or more, you may consider what legal protections exist to prevent another business from using your property and confusing consumers.

Federal law protects the creators of products, services, ideas and more through intellectual property protections like trademarks and service marks. However, when you first consider which protection to pursue for your business, you may wonder whether to seek a trademark or service mark.

What is a trademark?

A trademark is one of the most common forms of intellectual property protection. Meant to easily identify a product with a business, trademarks can protect a wide array of items, including:

  • The logo or slogan of a business
  • Any word, name or phrase central to the business
  • A symbol or design associated with a business
  • Any word, phrase, symbol, logo or design distinguishing a business or product

If your business sells one or more products, trademarking the name of your business can help consumers to easily identify your goods. Registering your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) can provide you with clear ownership and additional legal protections. However, you may use a trademark without registering it by using a superscript “TM” next to your mark.

What is a service mark?

A service mark is very similar to a trademark. However, rather than identifying a product with a business, it distinguishes the provider of a service. If your business provides a service like financial advice, cleaning services, business consulting, tutoring or more, a service mark could more accurately protect the valuable services you provide.

Like a trademark, you may use a service mark without formally registering it with the USPTO by using a superscript “SM.” However, registering your name, logo, slogan or more with the USPTO can provide enhanced protection.

Registering your trademark or service mark

If you choose to register your trademark or service mark with the USPTO, The Balance states that you must show your business both owns the mark and uses it. You can prove this by showing advertisements, brochures, signs or other marketing pieces using the name, logo or more.

The process to register your trademark or service mark can be complex, requiring comprehensive details and proof. An intellectual property attorney can assist in submitting a strong application to pursue timely legal protection.

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