Updated: Dec 5, 2020
"...The line between a service mark and a trademark is quite thin, and many companies simply end up having both."
By Sehgal Law PC
Trademarks & Service Marks
A trademark is a distinctive word, name, symbol, device, or other designation or combination of such designations that is used in a manner that identifies the source of a product and distinguishes that source from others. In essence, a trademark is a brand name. EXAMPLES: Xerox, Exxon and Starbucks, Nike sports apparel, Gatorade beverages, and Microsoft software.
A service mark is essentially the same as a trademark. However, while trademarks promote goods, a service mark identifies and distinguishes the source of a service. EXAMPLES: FedEx, American Express, Hilton Hotels, American Airlines.
“...diversity could also mean good business.”
The line between a service mark and a trademark is quite thin, and many companies simply end up having both. However, to clarify the distinction between the two, let’s take a look at a few examples:
A local plumber, Mr. Plumber, travels to his client’s homes to resolve plumbing issues. He does not sell any products bearing the “Mr. Plumber” name. Mr. Plumber, exclusively provides a service, and thus, the mark is a service mark.
Gatorade is a sports drink. It is available for sale at various stores. It is a tangible product that many people recognize and enjoy. “Gatorade” is a trademark.
Walmart is a popular department store providing retail services. When you go to your local Walmart, you are one, amongst millions, who are enjoying the services that they offer – therefore, “Walmart” is a service mark. However, Walmart also offers good in the form of store-branded merchandise. Thus, “Walmart” is also a trademark.
McDonald’s provides restaurant services, thereby making “McDonald’s” a service mark. However, McDonald’s also provides restaurant branded goods (i.e. food), and thus the mark is also a trademark (as are the individual product names – “McDouble”, “McNugget”).
A collective mark is a symbol, label, word, phrase, or other mark used by members of a group or organization to identify goods, members, products, or services that they render. The mark is generally used to show membership in a union, association, or other organization. Furthermore, use of a collective mark may indicate that the product or service meets the standards set by the group or association. Generally, the use of a collective mark is restricted to members of the association that owns the mark.
EXAMPLES: the mark "CPA", used to indicate members of the Society of Certified Public Accountants; NBA, NHL.
For example, the term "Pics" could be a collective mark by a national association of photographers, which means that it may only be used by photographers who are members of that association. The association could set certain standards for e.g. the price, or offer guarantees regarding the service offered or act as a mediator in case of conflict. Non-members cannot use the term "Pics" to designate their services, and so the absence of the term on a specific business or product essentially warns consumers that the company in question does not necessarily the guarantees associated with membership that association.
A certification mark is a symbol, name, or device owned by an independent body, and used by an organization other than its owner to certify regional or other origin, material, quality, accuracy or other characteristic. A certification mark may also be used to certify that the work or labor on the goods or services was performed by members of a specific union or other organization.
EXAMPLES: Idaho potatoes; Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval; Union Label
*Note: The trademark information in this page is taken from the public records of the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office. These marks have been chosen for illustration only. None of the named companies or organizations sponsor this page or have any affilliation with the Law Office of Reena Sehgal. No certification, affiliation, or membership is implied by or to be inferred from any of these marks.