Skip to content
Home » WHAT’S A TRADEMARK? » Lesson 2: Understanding the Difference Between Trademark (TM) and Service Mark (SM) for Your Business

Lesson 2: Understanding the Difference Between Trademark (TM) and Service Mark (SM) for Your Business

If you’re building your brand online and offline, understanding the difference between Trademark(TM) and Service Mark (SM) is very crucial in safeguarding your brands. In this article, I will give you the overview of TM and SM and what the circle actually means. You’ve likely come across TM and SM, but do you know the distinction and why it matters?

SM vs. TM: Decoding the Symbols

The SM stands for Service Mark, serving as a placeholder for service-based businesses that haven’t secured a registered trademark yet. It signals to others that a business is actively using a name, logo, or tagline in connection with services until they obtain a registered trademark certificate or if they are  not actively seeking one.

Consider a software-as-a-service provider, a legal professional, a healthcare professional, or any service-oriented business. They would utilize the SM symbol until their trademarks are officially registered.

On the other hand, TM represents a Trademark and is the same with SM but specifically for businesses dealing in goods or products. If you’re selling items, whether it’s kids’ products, beauty items, or home goods, the TM asserts your claim over the trademark associated with those products. So using the TM would put people on notice that you are using  a particular trademark and you are basically claiming it up until the time that it becomes  a registered trademark

Placeholder, Not a Promise:

Using SM or TM doesn’t necessarily indicate an imminent pursuit of a registered trademark. It’s a placeholder, a way of saying, “I’m using this, so take note,” without committing to the full registration process. Using these is only a placeholder and if you see a tm or an sm, don’t assume that they’re  pursuing a registered trademark because that is not always the case.


Remember, spotting TM or SM doesn’t reveal immediate trademark pursuits, but it does put others on notice. If this information has expanded your understanding, give it a thumbs up!

For more details, you may click the links below:

Search a trademark at the USPTO

Search details about a trademark

Get Started Now