Skip to main content

What’s the difference between a service mark (SM) and a trademark (TM)?

So, you’re new to the whole intellectual property protection thing, but you want to make sure that the cool name/logo/design/phrase that you came up with for your business is protected—and being a frugal+savvy entrepreneur, you want to do it RIGHT.

How you tell if you’re dealing with a service mark or a trademark? Essentially, a trademark is an identifier of products, while a service mark (or servicemark) is an identifier for services. Super simple, right? Let’s throw in some examples, just for good measure.

Raise your hand if you like craft beer! Say you own one such brewery, and the name you chose for the place is SuperAwesomeBeerCo. Do you have an unregistered trademark, a service mark, both, or nothing? Well, (and here’s a GREAT legal answer for you): IT DEPENDS. Here are some generalities:

  • If SuperAwesomeBeerCo is providing the services of pouring you and your buddies a nice, cold brew and providing you with a cool place to hang, the mark is being used to identify services. You’ve got a service mark.
  • If SuperAwesomeBeerCo is a label on the beer you’re drinking, which is being brewed in the next room over, the mark is being used to identify products—the craft beer. You’re dealing with a trademark.
  • What if SuperAwesomeBeerCo is using that mark to provide you with its bartending services and as the name labeled on its brews? Then you’ve got both a trademark and service mark!
  • But note this: Coming up with a cool name for your business DOES NOT automatically give you rights to that mark. Just because you’ve got a state certificate to do business under that name doesn’t mean that SuperAwesomeBrewCo can’t later come paralyze you in your growth plans, or worse yet, force a rebrand. Registering your marks early at the state and federal levels is vital to your success if you want to scale like everyone favorite neighborhood superhero.

You’ve got it! (mostly.) Now, here’s the catch—Often the term “trademark” is lazily and haphazardly used to refer to both trademarks and service marks. Go figure.

So, you’ve learned to distinguish service marks from trademarks, YAY! That’s all, right? NOPE. You still need to register. Trademark and service mark registration can be confusing—and costly—if you don’t know what you’re doing. For that reason, you should seek out help from experienced intellectual property lawyers, like the cool people at Rockridge Venture Law. 10/10 recommend.

About RVL®

Rockridge Venture Law® was launched in 2017 to become the preeminent intellectual property and technology firm across the Appalachian Innovation Corridor. We now have offices in Chattanooga, Durham, and Nashville, and represent clients and interests globally. Our services include all aspects of intellectual property, litigation, M&A, privacy, technology transactions, and ventures.

In 2018 and 2019, we were recognized as B Corp Best for the World for our commitment to triple bottom line business practices. Rockridge® is also certified by 1% for the Planet for its nonprofit partnerships advancing stewardship and sustainability. RVL’s nonprofit partners in 2020 include Green|Spaces, Living Lands and Waters, Mustard Seed Ranch, and the NC State Lulu Games Social and Environmental Impact Competition. We value transparency and proudly publish our yearly impact reports.

Our pioneering environmental and social impact programs attract top-notch legal talent and assure our clients of missional alignment with their corporate values. Rockridge uniquely addresses two modern profit drivers: innovation (uptake and development), and corporate social responsibility. We’re Building Today’s Company for Tomorrow’s Economy® by leading clients through the dizzying array of information controls, by helping them to develop and monetize proprietary assets, and by enabling their impactful products, programs, and principles.

Learn about global impact and innovation leaders at Rockridge I-Suite®.

See case studies on how we’ve helped transformative companies at Rockridge Case Studies.

Please note that this guide is for informational and advertisement purposes only. The use of this guide does not constitute an attorney client relationship. As laws frequently change and may be interpreted differently, RVL® does not in any way guarantee the accuracy or applicability of this information.

Kevin Christopher

Author Kevin Christopher

More posts by Kevin Christopher

Leave a Reply

Close Menu

Historic James Building
735 Broad Street, STE 1001
Chattanooga, TN 37402

Nashville Entrepreneur Center
41 Peabody St.
Nashville, TN 37210
(For client and partnership meetings only)

The Yale Club
50 Vanderbilt Ave.
New York, NY 10017
(For client and partnership meetings only)


RVL® is a business, intellectual property, and technology firm, building today’s companies for tomorrow’s economy.