This paper extends the emerging literature on the value of trademarks for innovation studies and policy-making with the first empirical study at the trademark level. It gives a view on how companies use trademarks and interpret trademark activities. A sample of 660 new Benelux trademarks registered by small- and medium-sized enterprises reveals that 60 per cent of recently registered Benelux trademarks refer to innovation activity, predominantly to product or service innovation. The reference to innovation co-varies with various applicant and trademark characteristics unknown from previous studies. Finally, the sample reveals that most of the trademarks used to signal innovative offers are filed close to its market introduction without combining them with other intellectual property rights. This holds especially for trademarks related to service innovation. © 2014 © 2014 Taylor & Francis.