A registered service mark symbol provides the same protections as a trademark. The only difference is that the service mark protects services, whereas the trademark protects goods. Trademarks, service marks, and copyrights all protect intellectual property, but they have different purposes. Learn more about these differences to guarantee that your work is protected.

Trademarks vs. Service Marks

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), trademarks identify goods, also known as physical commodities, that are natural, manufactured, or produced and sold, transported, or distributed from one state to another. Sending trademarked products or services from one state to another is also known as interstate commerce.

Though trademarks and service marks provide the same protections, there are some key differences. Service marks are actually subsets of trademarks, and one common type of service mark is a business' slogan. A service mark identifies a service rather than a product.

Trademarks and service marks provide protections to the business that hold them, but these marks are also valuable for consumers. Whenever a consumer sees a protected logo, for example, they can rest assured as to the quality of the product or service they're purchasing.

Trademarks and service marks are both ways to protect intellectual property, and neither mark needs to be officially registered in order to enjoy their protections.

In the U.S., these default protections are known common law rights. All a business must do is use the mark to access protections under common law rights. Though trademark and service mark protections are extended through commercial use, there are advantages to officially registering a federal trademark or service mark.

Common Law and Trademark Protections

Intellectual property comprises intangible assets. Physical products, processes, and artistic works are protected through different means, such as patents and copyrights.

The owner of a registered trademark or service mark may prohibit the manufacture, use, display, or sale of counterfeit or imitation products. The owner may also receive compensation for any damages, such as lost profits or damage to the owner's reputation, that the infringer caused by infringing on the marked goods.

Note that the rules for registering a service mark vary across states. You can find more information about these laws with the Secretary of State's office.

Registering a Mark

The first step to registering a mark is to search for existing marks that have already been registered. This will ensure that you don't infringe on products or services already in use.

The process for registering a trademark is the same as registering a service mark, and both extend the same protections. Again, the difference is that a service mark registers a service rather than a physical product. Check with the USPTO for more information about registering trademarks and service marks and keeping your rights active.

Copyrights, trademarks, and service marks are distinguishable by their respective symbols:

  • Copyright: ©
  • Trademark: ™
  • Service mark: SM
  • Registered trademark: ®
  • Phonograph copyright: ℗

Copyrights, trademarks, and service marks protect the owner of a product, service, or artistic work from plagiarism. Plagiarism occurs when someone copies or steals a protected work.

Note that copyrights apply to creative works. They give the holder exclusive rights to things such as publishing or selling a book and performing a song or play publicly.

The copyright symbol notifies others that the work is protected, but the owner doesn't necessarily have to display the symbol to receive copyright protection.

According to the Bern Convention Implementation Act, works created after March 1, 1989, don't need to display the copyright symbol to be protected. Works published before this date must display the copyright symbol to receive these protections.

New works are protected as soon as the creator puts them onto paper. You may still use the copyright symbol, however, to show that the creation is your original work.

Copyright protections typically stay in effect for 70 years after the author's death. After that point, the works may enter the public domain. If a work isn't copyright protected, anyone can copy or use it freely.

Trademark, Service Mark, and Registered Trademarks

The TM and SM symbols grant protections under common-law rights in the U.S. An official registration isn't needed to secure trademark or service mark protections, though it can help with any future litigation.

Note that the ® symbol can only be used with a registered trademark or service mark. Using the ® mark for an unregistered product or service is considered fraud.

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