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What's the difference between a trademark and service mark?

Two common examples of intellectual property (IP) that business owners need to protect are trademarks and service marks. Both can include words, symbols, designs, names or some combination of these to distinguish a business's product or service from others.

The primary difference between a trademark and a service mark is that trademarks are used to identify products while service marks are used to distinguish a business's service from its competitors. It refers to the source of the service.

A plumber might get a service mark for their slogan that represents their business because that's a service. However, if they have a unique product, like a mold remover, that they've invented, that would be trademarked.

A large business like a restaurant chain may have both service marks and trademarks. The name of the business may have a service mark because it refers to the source of the services. However, individual unique items on the menu may be trademarked.

Business owners register these marks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to get full legal protection. You can use a "TM" or "SM" by the mark to show that you're in the registration process. Once the mark is registered you can add the "R in a circle" symbol.

The process of making sure that no one else is using the mark you want to register and then registering your trademark or service mark can be a complicated one. It's best to have an experienced IP attorney helping you.

Your attorney can also provide assistance once you've registered your mark if you find that someone else has stolen it or that someone you've licensed it to has misused it. Registering your marks and other IP is an essential step, but you have to be vigilant about protecting them as well. They represent your hard work, ingenuity, brand and reputation.

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