When Does It Make Sense to Trademark Your Services?

Meg Hoppe
Posted by Meg Hoppe on March 27, 2017


Years ago we had a client that made metal blades for OEM customers in the agriculture and construction industries. Their company name was trademarked, naturally, and some of their products were, too—but none of its services. Services, just like products, can be valuable assets to a company; not only do they round out the total value package offered to customers, they add significant after-sale revenue, too.

A trademark (indicated by ™ or, when registered officially, ®) is any word, name, symbol, sound (like the Intel “chime”) or other device used to identify and distinguish the products of one seller from those of others, and to indicate the source of the products.

A service mark (℠) is the service comparable—it identifies and distinguishes the services of its provider. If your business provides services to customers, then any names, logos, and other marks used in association with those services would be considered service marks.

Every B2B manufacturer (and financial/insurance, distribution/supply chain and SaaS company) we work with has a trademarked brand and several trademarked products; few, though take the step of service-marking the other things they offer customers. This post gives you a few reasons why highlighting your services with a service mark might be good for business.

The Benefits of Trademarking a Service

Perception of value. Perception is reality, they say, and if people value your service and consider it more than a “just”—“just blade sharpening,” “just inventory management,” “just an onboarding program,” then that alone reveals the benefit of trademarking what you offer. If a service you’re performing is being done better and in a way that adds to the customer’s bottom line (reduces costs, ensures uptime, improves throughput, etc.), then you ought to be indicating that with a service mark that tells customers, “This is worth something.” Admit it: if you were to read “Get your free Lifecycle Evaluation℠” on one insurance company’s website and just “Get your free lifecycle evaluation” on another, you assume, maybe subconsciously, that the trademarked process is a little more, well…valuable. You think it’s something special.

Another reason to trademark a service is to differentiate your company. This is similar to perception in that if your company is the only one promoting “Diamond Guide℠ blade sharpening,” that makes your competitors’ blade sharpening services seem relatively ordinary. Most industries offer similar products and similar services to support them, but if yours is something you’re really proud of, indicate that by shining a little light on it with a trademarked name.

Perhaps the most important reason to trademark is to protect your service from infringement. If you have a unique way of doing something that adds value and differentiates your company, trademarking it protects you from others copying that process. Today it’s not difficult for a competitor to “reverse engineer” a service to learn how it’s done, then replicate that and sell it as their own—or simply call it the same thing, implying they do it just like you do. A trademark will protect you from real infringements (the copying of very specific and unique steps in a service process, for example). It won’t keep someone from performing the same basic service, however.

A Word of Caution

If the service you’re considering trademarking is not in some way distinctive, don’t do it. Customers will see your effort as deceitful, and you can’t afford to have your credibility questioned. Don’t call your customer service “ConciergePlus℠” if you don’t do much more than answer your phones, for example.

Do You Do Anything Worth Service-marking?

Take a look at all the services you offer, especially those offered after the sale, as these help ensure loyalty and can add ongoing revenue. Are any unique to your company or go beyond the ordinary to offer more to customers than your competitors typically do? Consider trademarking a name that communicates the value—but don’t make the mistake of assuming that’s all you need to do. For it to do its job, a service mark has to be promoted, with consistent and regular messaging that outlines the underlying value of the service to the customer.

Want more information about trademarks and service marks? The best place to find official information is the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). I’m no lawyer, so look here before you take steps to add the service mark to your service.

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