A trademark is a fairly familiar concept and symbol signaling a recognizable branding of a company’s goods, i.e., its “trade.” Unregistered, a trademark is designated as ™. Registered, it appears as ®. A service mark is a parallel usage to a trademark, but is used for services, rather than goods. In many of its explanations and definitions, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) actually uses the word trademark to refer to both trademarks and service marks.
The official definition of a service mark from the USPTO is “any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce, to identify and distinguish the services of one provider from services provided by others, and to indicate the source of the services.” Although registration of a service mark is not required, it provides several important benefits, including evidence of ownership, legal presumption of ownership, and the ability to use the filing as a basis for filing for foreign registration. An unregistered service mark is indicated by the abbreviation SM. The registered symbol ® is the same as for trademarks.
There are several steps in acquiring a service mark registration. The first is to determine that a service mark is the type of intellectual property that is appropriate to create and create a prototype mark. At the same time, it is necessary to search the USPTO database of trademarks and service marks to be aware of existing rights to various marks that may bear a resemblance to the proposed service mark. The “Design Search Code Manual” categorizes mark designs and assists in the search for them, and the search can be conducted at the Trademark Public Search Library in Alexandria, Virginia. If a possibly conflicting mark is discovered, the Trademark Applications and Registrations Retrieval (TARR) database can be used to find out the mark’s current status.
Once the design has been cleared as not conflicting, the application must be completed. This includes a description of the service that the service mark is intended to represent. It also includes a clear depiction of the service mark to be registered. There is a fee involved in the registration process, which can take several years. Often, the services of an attorney are procured for service mark registration.