• IHG pursues patent

IHG has been reached patent approval in the US for a new hotel room design in Crowne Plaza properties.

The move followed an application earlier this year by Disney for an immersive multimedia room, intended to encourage guests to spend more time in their rooms, as operators fight back against the commoditisation of their products.

The WorkLife Room was developed as part of the Crowne Plaza Accelerate programme, which will see the renovation of the brand in the US.

Meredith Latham, regional VP, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, Americas told Hotel Analyst: “For the Crowne Plaza brand, this marks a major step forward in guest experience innovation. Earning a patent for this global room design signals the distinctiveness of the WorkLife Room experience and it showcases that when you lead the design process with the guest in mind, the solutions are worth owning.

“The WorkLife Room was carefully conceptualised, tested around the World in prototype format and in fully built hotels.  We fine-tuned until we had a product that was the best version of a hotel guest room for the modern business traveler. Our guests have voted, and this room delivers improved satisfaction, our teams love it and now the US Patent office sees the uniqueness.

“Only the WorkLife Room has reached patent approval, and only in the WorkLife Room do you find unique, innovative concepts like an angled bed — which maximises floor space, and a cocooning headboard — which reduces noise for a better night’s sleep.

“Other guest room concepts might focus on a specific area of the guest experience, like accessibility or technology. The WorkLife Room takes a design-led approach to make the every aspect of the guestroom harmonise together.  From the new modern design, connectivity, furniture position, room layout, ease of access, productivity features, etc.”

The key elements of WorkLife room include an angled bed, which, IHG said: “opens up more space for the room’s distinct zones”; a “sofa nook, a multi-purpose space for reading, watching TV, working, meeting with colleagues or kicking back with room service” a desk area and a “welcome station, which gets guests settled with a space for keys, bags and coats”.

The US Patent Office defines patentable subject matter as any “new and useful” process, machine, manufacture or composition of matter. … The invention must be “novel,” or new.

IHG was not alone this year in applying to patent a room. In April Disney filed for a hotel room which promised a multimedia offering.

The patent, entitled ‘Multimedia System for Transforming Any Room Into a Show Environment,’ described a system to turn any room, in particular a hotel room, into an immersive entertainment experience, with an emphasis on hotel rooms.

The filing said: “There are many settings where it is desirable to provide in-room entertainment to make people’s stay in that room or space more enjoyable. These spaces may range from waiting areas (e.g., airport and other transportation staging areas, health and other service waiting rooms, and so on) to hotel rooms to a room in someone’s home, and each of these spaces may be considered a “room” in this description.

“To date, the types of entertainment provided in these spaces or “in-room” has been quite limited. For example, hotel rooms have long been rather generic environments distinguished from each other mainly by their furnishings, decor, the hotel’s location, and out-of-room amenities provided in the hotel or its grounds. Conventional thinking in the hotel industry has been that it is desirable to make their guest very comfortable while they sleep but to otherwise encourage their guests to leave their room to partake in entertaining activities such as shopping and dining on-site or elsewhere in a resort or nearby city.”

James Bland, director, BDRC Continental, told Hotel Analyst: “Anything that improves the guest experience is to be wholeheartedly welcomed and the room certainly looks and sounds appealing.  Installing it into 3,000 bedrooms is impressive, and no small undertaking, but still represents less than 3% of the brand’s 116,403 open rooms.  We can reasonably expect, then, that a similar proportion of the brand’s guests is all that will get to experience it for now.

“Clearly a bedroom is something that is patent-able, otherwise they’d be have been laughed right out of court, but – not being a lawyer – I find it hard to see how it could ever be enforced.  I don’t for one minute imagine this means that no-one is allowed to angle a bed, and if a hotel were to install charging points for 15 devices, not 14, does that mean there’s no foul there, either?  It’s got to be a positioning statement as much as it is anything else.  Having a patent should certainly allow you to call yourself ‘innovative’, so even if they never actually use this to protect their intellectual property, it’s a smart move in that regard.”

HA Perspective [by Katherine Doggrell]: This move by IHG has prompted any amount of speculation in a sector which is not exactly lost for gossip at its most dumbstruck times. This hack’s favourite theory was the idea that, with the patent being registered in the US, this was part of Trump’s plans for further sanctions against China. Not too far fetched when one considers the issues which companies including Starbucks have had holding onto their brands in the country.

This also marks a fightback from hotels in terms of stamping their feet and pointing out that yes, there are differences between the brands and no, every hotel room is not defined by price and location.

Will this now mark a spate of patenting from the sector? Can guests look forward to more unusual angles from their beds? The OTAs and those who would commoditise hotel rooms have hopefully sparked a shift whereby branded hotel rooms may well feature the use of a cookie cutter, but at least those cookies are different flavours.

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