Souvenirs And Keepsakes

How Intellectual Property Crafts Memories of Our Travels

Signs, names, and logos tend to give us the first clue to a destination.  These visual and verbal tactics are called trademarks...and they are used to distinguish the goods or service of one enterprise from another.

Published in The Wenatchee World

Today, tourism is more than just getting away for a summer vacation. People travel for a multitude of reasons and core experiences. 

Cultural tourism involves experiencing different foods, music, an immersion into diverse ways of life, languages and societies.  Natural tourism attracts hikers, beachgoers, persons who observe and appreciate national parks, nature’s monuments, rivers, gorges and other natural environments.  Health tourism attracts people to spas, and areas offering natural treatments.  Religious tourism offers pilgrims access to important sites such as Mecca or the Vatican.  Agro tourism involves touring local farms, viewing the growing and harvesting processes, sampling locally grown foods; or locally developed wines, beers or ciders, on site or in local restaurants. 

With so many different core markets, how does each differentiate itself? 

Isn’t one sandy beach much the same as another?  If you’ve seen one lake, haven’t you seen them all?  And aren’t all German biergartens pretty much the same?  Each tourism market uses creativity to brand and promote itself as a unique experience not found anywhere else. 

The creativity used to distinguish one tourism experience from another requires a well-informed application of intellectual property.  Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, names and images used in commerce.

Signs, names, and logos tend to give us the first clue to a destination.  These visual and verbal tactics are called trademarks—referred to as “brands” within the advertising and marketing community—and they are used to distinguish the goods or service of one enterprise from another. 

Trademarks can be geographic identifiers or destination brands such as:


There is no additional information required to recognize the location these eye-catching signs are referring to.  Similarly, trademarks can identify a particular hotel chain, restaurant, or travel company. 

Trademark law requires each trademark to be distinctive from another in order to prevent consumer confusion. For example, stopping a consumer from accidentally traveling to the wrong destination, or booking into the wrong hotel.  Many travelers will look for a hotel with a well-known name or trademark, so they will have an idea of what they may expect in their accommodations. 

Trademarks also help us categorize good and bad experiences. 

For example, knowing that you never want to use ABC coach services again after that harrowing experience traveling down a mountain road in Peru.  Or remembering to recommend XYZ restaurant to friends after experiencing a divine candlelit dinner.  Or remembering the name of that fabulous wine you sampled in Chelan.  Trademarks are important to the travel industry, not only to identify various regions and experiences but also to assist tourists in navigating through the tourism quagmire, to find that special region and particular experience they are seeking.

Did you purchase a souvenir?

Souvenirs allow us to take a part of our travel experience back home with us as a memory. 

A souvenir embraces something about the core tourist interest – the name of a place, the depiction of a landmark.  Almost certainly each item was created intending to be distinctive to the tourist, and to encourage the tourist to purchase this particular item rather than another created by a competitor. 

The creative qualities of souvenirs, from a photograph of the Grand Canyon to an ornament of the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, are valuable assets to their creators. However, that value can only be maintained by respecting the creative, or intellectual property rights of the creator.  Artistic expressions such as the design of native American turquoise jewelry, or a painting of Mount Rainier, are protectable under copyright law which is intended to stop the theft or copying of creative works for commercial gain.

Maybe, you kept the brochure?    

Promotional materials such as travel brochures and tour guides are themselves creative products linked to a core tourist experience, and designed to catch the eye and interest of the potential traveler.   As creative works, the graphics and layout are also protected by copyright law.  A travel company will use creativity to ensure its photographs of a beautiful lagoon or mountain range are far superior and more inviting (hopefully) to a potential tourist than photographs of the same mountains found in a competitor’s brochure.  That creativity is entitled to copyright protection – to maintain the commercial advantage the travel company gains from owning its unique photograph.

Understanding how to use intellectual property effectively allows the tourism industry to create distinctive destination brands, and to use creative marketing to connect with people all-over-the-world to inform them about a unique travel experience, and to entice them to discover their experience first-hand.

Laraine Burrell is an attorney with JDSA Law. Her areas of practice include Cyber Law, Entertainment Law, and Intellectual Property Law.

[Content provided in this article should be used for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the advice of a relevant professional with any questions about any legal decision you are seeking to make.]