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New row erupts over Distinguished brand

08 June 2006

A new row has erupted over the demise of hotel marketing association Distinguished Hotels, this time over the sale of its brand name and website.

The dispute arose after the consortium's former online booking provider, Pegasus, sent a letter to Distinguished members claiming to have agreed a sale with William Burruss.

Burruss is a former joint-venture partner of Distinguished but his formal relationship with the company (see Caterer, 1 June, page 7) and ownership of the brand is in dispute.

The Pegasus letter, dated 24 May, stated: "We have agreed with Bill Burruss the purchase of the brand name, logo and website which, alongside the ownership of the chain code, effectively means that Pegasus will own the total package."

But a spokesman for former Distinguished chairman Tim Hadcock-Mackay said it is not Burruss's to sell. "The brand and website is owned by Distinguished Hotels Ltd and not one individual," he said.

His claim is supported by the fact that Burruss unsuccessfully applied to register the EU-wide Distinguished trademark at the Patent Office on 2 February last year. According to Patent Office records, Burruss had two requests rejected - one for "Distinguished Hotels International" and one for "Distinguished Hotels".

When contacted by Caterer, Burruss initially claimed to own the trademark but retracted the statement when pressed about the failed bids. "We have resubmitted our application, and I'll defend our ownership of it rigorously," he said.

Burruss refused to comment on the proposed Pegasus deal or the possibility of the trademark being sold off as part of a liquidation process - a prospect put forward by Hadcock-Mackay's spokesman as the most likely route (Caterer, 1 June, page 7).

Bruno Maini, a consultant to Pegasus and former employee of Distinguished, sent the letter from Pegasus but admitted the wording may have been too strong. "What it said was not untrue but it may have been more accurate to say, ‘We are in negotiations with William Burruss.' As far as I understand, the name is owned by Burruss's company, Distinguished Hotels America."

According to a source close to Distinguished, 35 hotels from the 110-strong portfolio, including the Royal Park in London W2 and Lumley Castle in Durham, have so far signed up with Pegasus since Distinguished stopped trading.

By Tom Bill

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