A hotel’s brands may be its most valuable asset. Properly using your brand can build brand recognition and loyalty with your guests. Conversely, failing to correctly use and protect your brands may make them vulnerable to becoming “generic” and losing their legal protection. For example, terms such as “escalator,” “aspirin” and “thermos” were once valid trademarks but became generic because they were improperly used.

This article sets forth the important Do’s and Don’ts concerning the proper use of brands when displaying them to the public.

Before beginning, it would be helpful to review two basic terms. Brands are often referred to as either “trademarks” or “service marks.”

A trademark refers to the brands for goods. A trademark includes any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from the goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods.

A service mark is the same thing as a trademark except that it indicates the source of one’s service. Hotel brands are generally considered service marks.

With that in mind, the following are key Do’s and Don’ts concerning the use of your marks.

The five key Do’s

1. Do use the correct notation. If your mark is federally registered, use "®" or "Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM. Off." adjacent to the mark. For example, HILTON® hotels. If your service mark is not registered, use the “SM” symbol after the mark. The “TM” symbol is used for unregistered trademarks. For instance, Donald Trump’s slogan “YOU'RE FIRED! DONALD J. TRUMP” for clothing has not yet been registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. So, the slogan should appear, YOU'RE FIRED! DONALD J. TRUMP™. If you use the mark several times in written materials, use the symbol in the most prominent reference. Subsequently, the mark at least should be capitalized or bolded.

2. Do acknowledge ownership of the mark at the end of written materials. For example, in advertising you may provide notice by placing an asterisk beside the mark in the body of the advertising copy and and setting a suitable notice at the bottom of the page in a footnote. For example: “*CHOICE HOTELS is a registered trademark of Choice Hotels International, Inc.”

3. Do use your mark as an adjective followed by a generic term or the word “brand.” This reduces the risk that your brand will become generic. For example, HOLIDAY INN® motels or “the Four Seasons brand.”

4. Do use your mark often and consistently. Failure to use your mark for a significant period of time creates the presumption that you have “abandoned” the mark. This may result in the mark becoming part of the public domain. To help build the brand, you should when possible your mark in a consistent fashion. As one trademark scholar explained, “Only uniform and consistent appearance will allow uses of the mark to continue to imprint the image of the mark in the public mind as an easily and quickly recognized symbol.” See 1 J. McCarthy, McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition, § 7:38.1 (4th ed. 2004). Wherever possible, set the mark apart in written materials from other words or phrases by capitalizing it, using italics or a different font or color. However, never abbreviate or alter the wording of the mark.

5. Do understand what marks you own. Of course, you will need to create an inventory of your brands in order to follow the above guidelines. To do this, it is important to remember that a mark doesn’t have to be a single word or even famous. A service mark can be a single word, a combination of words, a slogan, a logo, a combination of words and designs, distinctive packaging or virtually any other distinctive symbol that identifies the source of your services. For example, MGM Mirage Corporation owns a registered trademark that consists of lion sculpture that serves as the entrance into the establishment. Hilton Hospitality, Inc. owns a federal registration for the slogan, “EVERYTHING FOR A REASON.”

The five key Don’ts

1. Don’t use the ® notation unless you’re entitled. Don’t use the "®" notation on any mark that is not federally registered. An exception to this rule is if you own a registration in a foreign country that use the ® symbol to indicate that a mark is registered in that country. Use of the symbol by the holder of a foreign registration may be proper.

2. Don’t pluralize your marks. For example, use “the two Hyatt hotels” rather than the “two Hyatts.”

3. Don’t use your marks in the possessive form. The exception, of course, would be if the mark, in fact, is possessive. For example, Carnival Corporation owns a federal registration for the slogan, THE WORLD'S MOST POPULAR CRUISE LINE.

4. Don’t use your marks as verbs. For example, you would not want to say “relax as you Ritz your long-awaited vacation at our luxury hotel.” Rather, you may want to say, “relax as you enjoy your long-awaited vacation at The Ritz-Carlton® hotel.

5. Don’t use your mark as a noun. This can cause your mark to become a generic word for a particular service. For example, you would not want to write “stay at a travelodge.” Since readers may begin associating “travelodge” as the generic name for a budget motel.

In summary, by following the above guidelines, hoteliers can both protect and build their brands when displaying their brands to the public.

Alan Cyrlin is an attorney and partner with the law firm of Ervin, Cohen & Jessup, LLP., in Beverly Hills, California.