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

On Behalf of | Nov 1, 2021 | intellectual property law

The Nike Swoosh. The Adidas three stripes. The blue Ford oval. Companies often use logos as identifiers. Seeing these markings, customers can hardly help but to think of their associated brands. As a business owner, you likely also identify your products with a logo or other marking, but how do you stop others from using your marks on their goods or services?

Understanding the difference between trademarks and service marks may help you decide which type of protection you need for your brand and product.


According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a trademark is a distinguishing mark that identifies goods. Trademarks may include designs, symbols, words, phrases or a combination of these. Such marks help customers recognize your products and differentiate them from those offered by your competitors. Obtaining a trademark does not give you legal ownership of a word or phrase in general. Rather, it gives you rights regarding the use of such words or phrases in relation to your specific goods.

Many use the term trademark as an umbrella word, referring to intellectual property protections for goods and services. However, trademarks specifically apply to goods.

Service marks

Like their goods-related counterparts, service marks include logos, words, phrases and other such things to identify the source of services. For example, a small house cleaning business may use a logo with a mop, vacuum and broom to distinguish themselves from other home cleaning services. Having a service mark may not let you stop others outside of the house cleaning industry to use similar logos. However, it may help you legally protect your brand and guard against fraud or counterfeiting.

You worked hard to build your brand, and the last thing you want is for someone else to use your efforts for their gain or to somehow damage what you built. However, intellectual property protections, such as trademarks, exist, which may help you safeguard your business and brand.