1. What are Trademarks or Service Marks?
2. Why Register a Service Mark?
3. Process of Registering a Trademark or Service Mark

When researching how to service mark a name, you want to make sure you have the most accurate, up-to-date information. This will not only help you protect your company in terms of the unique service you offer, but will also prevent legal issues in the future. 

What are Trademarks or Service Marks?

Before you register a service or trademark, you need to understand what this process means for your business. Whether you register a unique word, phrase, sound, or symbol, this is what will differentiate you from other businesses. 

  • If you use a mark to protect the products you sell, this is a trademark. An example would be physical or digital tax preparation software.
  • If you use a mark to protect the services you offer, this is a service mark. An example would be your ability to prepare tax returns — which is a provided service. 

In some cases, people will use these two terms interchangeably.

When you are first wondering how to service mark a name, know that this step will legally identify the services provided by your business. Although you can service mark your brand name, you can also mark a design or even a slogan that helps customers differentiate you from competitors in your industry. This means that a service mark is the same as a trademark, it just applies to services rather than products. 

When registering a service mark in the United States, the legal system offers two options:

  • Common-law protection, applying only in specific geographic areas. This is then governed and controlled by state law. 
  • Federal registration, which will protect your company on a national basis. 

Although you do not need to technically register a service mark, doing so will significantly strengthen your legal position. 

Why Register a Service Mark?

When you use a service mark in your business, you will obtain common law trademark protection. Although this is some protection, the level of protection you will receive is typically weak. Outside of your geographical location, you may not be protected. This means that another business may use key aspects of your services without your consent. It may then be hard to prove your rights. 

If you register your service mark with your state, once again, this will not protect you on a national basis. Someone out-of-state could use your mark, making national and international business more complicated. This is why it is recommended that you register your service mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). There are many benefits associated with this proactive approach, including:

  • Nationwide protection, ensuring that your service mark is not used within the United States. 
  • The creation of a public record. 
  • Your ability to sue if infringement exists in the future. If this happens, registration will support your court claim and you may be entitled to monetary damages. 
  • Greater ease when aiming to obtain service mark protection in another country. 

When registering a service mark or trademark, this will help your customers identify your goods or services. They will know that the source of that service, for instance, is your company. This can give you an upper edge in an otherwise competitive marketplace. 

Other benefits of registration include, but are not limited to:

  • Claim of ownership — which is very powerful. This is particularly the case when going to court.
  • Your ability to expand into the global marketplace. When you register in the United States, this makes the process easier when applying for a mark internationally. 
  • The demonstration of your ownership and rights to use your service mark.  

Process of Registering a Trademark or Service Mark

 Follow these steps when you are ready to register a trademark or service mark:

  • At this point, you may have already developed a unique service — or perhaps you're still developing your concept. Either way, you'll want to make sure that no one else is using that mark. 
  • To protect your idea, you will need to apply for a service mark. However, this process can be very complex and intensive. To ensure that your background search is complete, it is highly recommended that you contact an attorney for legal advice and counsel. 

The process following your initial search is also fairly extensive, which is why you should seek professional assistance. You may need to take offline action, non-final office action, or a number of other steps. When you are represented by an attorney, you will achieve greater peace-of-mind. 

If you need help with registering a service mark, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.