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Is a trademark different than a service mark?

Depending on what your company does for consumers, you may need a trademark or a service mark. Most people are familiar with trademarks, which generally include things like:

  • Symbols
  • Designs
  • Words
  • Phrases

These are all part of the company's branding efforts, and they need to be protected to set the company apart from the competition. This makes it clear to the customers from which company they are buying.

But what is a service mark? Is it any different?

In many ways, it is exactly the same. It can also be a phrase, a word, a design or a symbol. It is also part of the company's branding and sets them apart. It is an identifier and needs legal protection as such.

The main difference is that a trademark applies to companies that sell goods -- or, quite literally, engage in the trade of products for money. A service mark, on the other hand, is for a company that offers a service in exchange for payment. For instance, a company that makes vacuum cleaners may need a trademark, while a company that offers floor cleaning services may need a service mark.

The two are so similar that the government often just uses the word "mark" in legal documentation, as it can apply to either one. Company owners just need to know what type of mark they need based on what type of company they run.

Having the right legal protections in place is a crucial part of helping your company thrive. Be sure you know exactly what steps to take and which tools to use.

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