Trademarks are an integral part of any franchise. They represent and protect the brand and create brand strength through their continued use. Brand strength is viewed in terms of customer perception; not what the franchisor believes it to be. This distinction can get lost. The focus is always on what the customers perceives the brand to be.
Trademark protection is about consistency, the hallmark of a solid franchise chain. Franchisors should take care to send exact messages to their customers. The mark must be spelled exactly as it appears on the registration. No additional periods. No deviations in color shading. No shifty words around. All of those are considered different trademarks and their continued use will weaken a franchisor’s registered trademarks.
Consistency is important on the franchisee level as well. Care should be taken to monitor the franchisees’ use of the trademarks beyond a simple contractual obligation. Train franchisees on the importance of trademark consistency. Make monitoring franchisee use of the trademarks a priority. Incorporate into the franchise operations a system of checks and checklists to ensure that the franchisor’s trademarks are used in a manner consistent with registration.
Be alert for changes in the brand through the eyes of a consumer, especially for trademarks that do not incorporate a logo or design. Such brand identification may not be what it was at the beginning of the franchise chain. How do the customers refer to the brand? Maybe a franchisor registered the words, High Society Burger Crossing. That may, indeed, be what the franchisor perceives the brand to be. But the customers? Are they likely to say “Let’s go to High Society Burger Crossing for lunch?” Likely not. It’s likely the customer associates the brand with the words “High Society” or “High Society Burgers”. If so, that is one of the chain’s trademarks. Register it, preferably at the federal level.
Creating a culture of trademark consistency is imperative to a franchisor or other trademark licensor. This ensures that the franchisor’s trademarks remain strong and economically valuable in the eyes of its customers.