What does "SM" mean after company names now?

Recently, I’ve seen a Kmart sign that says, “Kmart SM”, where the SM is raised like a trademark sign. I’ve also seen it after Verizon.

What does “sm” mean? Is this new?

It stands for “service mark”. Trade marks designate items and companies that provide them. Service marks designate services and companies that provide them.

It’s not new, but it is not as commonly used as the trademark symbol.

SM is most often used for taglines, slogans, and bumper-sticker-like sayings that a company wants to call its own. TM is usually reserved for names of products.

It’s mainly a vanity thing. It’s for people who think that their tagline or bumpersticker is so ingeniously perfect, that every other company in the world wants to use it. Which is phooey, for two reasons:

  1. Most slogans are flatulent nonsense. . .

  2. No company wants to use another company’s tagline anway. They will gladly spend countless dollars creating an ‘original’ one, rather than steal one.
    IMCO, taglines are all useless and ignored by most consumers anyway.

This, from someone who has been paid handsomely to concoct slogans.

Only to pay the mortgage, of course.

Kmart has the [sub]SM[/sub] because Kmart isn’t its own company anymore. A few months ago, Sears and Kmart merged to form a coproration called Sears Holdings.

That’s not how it works. A single company can have an unlimited number of trademarks. It doesn’t matter which terms are on the corporate charter and which are on the actual buildings. They can all be registered as trademarks. Indeed, I bet you’ll find trademark registrations for “Kmart” and I bet you’ll find that there are still corporate entities existing that use “Kmart” in their names.

Not really. Service marks are used for, wait for it, services - as opposed to tangible, concrete products.

Examples: Dow Chemical Service Marks:

AUTOMATT[sup]SM[/sup] engineering services 
BioAqueous[sup]SM[/sup] solubilization services  
CHELAMED[sup]SM[/sup] radiopharmaceutical services 
CHEMAWARE[sup]SM[/sup] product information services
CHEMIPALOOZA[sup]SM[/sup] multimedia educational program 
DIRECTOR[sup]SM[/sup] water treatment services, analytical and consultation services 
Dowpharma[sup]SM[/sup] contract manufacturing services 

And on through the rest of the alpabet.

And so this is also beside the point. Services are inherently copyable so the ability to distinguish between providers is a major issue. The company may use slogans as part of this process, but it’s hardly the core of what service marks are all about.

And even if it were, I can guarantee that the number of slogans that have been copied by firms who didn’t want to spend the money on an original line is astoundingly huge.

You’re seeing SM more frequently now than in the past because more companies are involved in “services”. A brick-and-mortar store would get a trademark on their product label because they’re using it to sell tangible goods. A lot of websites don’t sell any tangible goods, so their “product” is a service. Yahoo, Google, and all those other companies that exist online with no tangible retail product count as services as far as the USPTO is concerned. Anyone who wants to protect their cute blog tagline could also describe their blog as a service.

Note that Google includes a TM on their mark. They may be using that instead of SM even though they have a service mark or they may have applied for a trademark on their name based on the fact that they sell a watered-down version of their search engine as a “product”. I use them as an example above simply because their main product (their website) is a service.

There is an important distinction between the trademark and service mark application processes that makes service marks easier to get. For trademarks, you have to demonstrate an actual use in commerce, which means you have to actually sell a product using the mark outside your home state (to qualify for federal protection). Unless you really are a big company with nationwide sales, this is a pain to document. It’s also an issue for startups and new products who can only file “intent to use” applications until they can demonstrate actual use in commerce. On the other hand, since service marks don’t involve tangible goods, all you have to do is advertise your service to qualify as using the mark in commerce, so as soon as you have a website up using the mark, that qualifies for full registration. This doesn’t mean you should get service marks instead of trademarks where trademarks are appropriate, but it does mean service marks are easier to apply for and that may be one reason you’re noticing them more.

It means they just hired a woman in a latex catsuit with a whip.