Businesses in Dallas and Houston should clearly understand the differences between trademarks, service marks and registered marks.

As experienced patent lawyers in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas, we are commonly asked about how to protect precious business assets. Intellectual property, creative works, inventions, products, services and more are just some of the things that businesses need to safeguard in today's competitive marketplace.

Individuals may also need to prevent their work from essentially being taken by or attributed to someone else. How can this be done? The use of trademarks or service marks is one avenue available to Texas companies and individuals. But, before jumping in too fast, it is important to understand the different options available.

What is a registered trademark or service mark?

Most people have seen a symbol that includes a capital letter "R" inside a circle. This most frequently appears next to a product or service name or perhaps near or in part of an identifying logo or other graphic. In some cases, a company logo is simply the name set in a visually appealing and stylized manner and may have a registered symbol associated with it.

The registered mark can apply to both products and services. It designates that a particular entity owns that name, product, service or visual element. This ownership is intended to ban others from using it as their own. It may be used or referenced by other individuals or companies so long as its ownership is properly attributed to the entity holding the registration.

What is a service mark?

A service mark is like a registered mark but it does not require nor does it indicate any legal granting of rights. A service mark is to be used with services, not products. It designates that a particular individual or company wants to own it but does not currently hold a final, legal registration for it. A service mark symbol consists of the letters "S" and "M" together, generally in superscript. No circle is used around the letters.

What is a trademark?

A trademark is just like a service mark except that it applies to thing like logos, graphics, names and terms. No official legal granting of rights is required in order for an entity to use a trademark symbol. A trademark symbol consists of the letters "T" and "M" together, generally in superscript. As with the service mark, there is no circle around the two letters.

Issues with infringement

When a registered trademark or a registered service mark is misused or fraudulently adopted by another entity, the owner may be able to take legal action. Contacting an attorney as soon as such a situation is known about is important. Minimizing the losses associated with improper branding requires prompt attention.