Yosemite Changing The Names Of Popular Park Landmarks Following The Most Ridiculous Trademark Dispute Ever

from the can't-find-the-words... dept

Yosemite National Park is apparently changing the names of a bunch of famous sites and buildings in the park thanks to one of the most ridiculous trademark disputes you’ll ever hear about. Ever stayed at the famous historic Ahwahnee hotel? That’s not what it will be called next time you go. Camped in Curry Village? Not any more. All thanks to… trademark law.

Almost exactly a year ago, I first heard about a potential for such a trademark dispute involving the famed Yosemite (a park I’ve spent lots of time visiting) and the company that had supplied concessions there since 1993, Delaware North Parks & Resorts (or, technically, its subsidiary, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite). I had meant to write it up at the time, because the whole thing seemed insane — but (like too many stories) never had the time. I then missed that, back in September, DNCY actually did sue (you can see the lawsuit itself), leading to the company demanding a ridiculous $44 million for the trademarks which no one seemed to know it had. But we’ll get to that…

So, here’s the backstory: part of the deal between the park and Delaware North in 1993, was that the company had to buy the assets of the previous operator, the Yosemite Park & Curry Company. That contract also noted that any new concession firm that took over from Delaware North would then have to purchase the assets from Delaware North. From the contract:

[DNCY will] sell and transfer to the successor designated by the Secretary its POSSESSORY INTEREST in CONCESSIONER and GOVERNMENT IMPROVEMENTS, if any, as defined under the contract, and all other of [DNCY] used or held for use in connection with such operations

… the Secretary will require such successor, as a condition to the granting of a contract to operate, to purchase from [DNCY] such POSSESSORY INTEREST, if any, and such other property, and to pay [DNCY] the fair value thereof.

The big issue is what the hell “such other property” entails. While some stories have reported that Delaware North secretly trademarked the names of key spots in the park, including the historic Ahwahnee hotel (for those who have been to the park, that’s the fancy “nice” hotel in the park), others note that the trademarks were actually filed in 1988 by the Curry Company, and that means it’s likely that Delaware North “acquired” them as part of its original agreement to purchase the assets of the Curry Company. Now it’s important to note that those assets don’t include the actual hotels or land or places or anything like that.

But it appears that everyone basically forgot about the trademarks.

Then, just as the Park started soliciting bids for a new concession contract, Delaware North dropped the trademark bomb on Yosemite, reminding them it had those registered trademarks on the names of every place where it ran the concessions — and that if the park didn’t renew with Delaware North, the new provider would need to pay $51 million for those trademarks and other assets, most of which it listed as “other property” under the contract.

The folks at Yosemite were… not pleased.

Delaware North’s trademark claims come at a time when the park service is soliciting bids for a new concessionaire’s agreement at Yosemite. Delaware North contends that if the park service decides to award the concessions agreement to another company, then the park service must pay Delaware North $51 million in “intellectual property rights” fees for the right to continue to use the names Ahwahnee Hotel, Badger Pass, Curry Village, the Wawona Hotel, and Yosemite Lodge, park documents show.

“This came as a complete surprise to us,” said Yosemite chief spokesperson Scott Gediman, who is also a park ranger. “We did not think [Delaware North] would claim ownership to these names. … These names belong to the American people.”

Then, when Yosemite awarded the new concession contract to someone else, Delaware North stepped in and demanded many millions of dollars for the trademark going to court in September and eventually asking for $44 million for the names — while the park says the trademarks are actually worth $1.63 million. Yosemite filed documents responding to the lawsuit and challenging many of Delaware North’s claims, including the idea that Delaware North owns various improvements to facilities in the park, such as repainted walls. The park notes that under US law “once a capital improvement is constructed or installed by a concessioner on land owned by the United States in a National Park, title is vested in the United States.” In some cases where Delaware North might have had an ownership claim, the reply notes, the company was obliged to first get approval from the National Park Service, which it failed to do.

And, then, a week or so later, Yosemite announced that it was going with the nuclear option of basically renaming everything in the park. Yosemite is basically saying “Hey, Delaware North, let’s see how valuable your trademarks are if we just drop them entirely”:

In an extraordinary move, the National Park Service announced Thursday that it was changing the names of The Ahwahnee hotel, Curry Village and other beloved park sites. The move, officials say, was forced on them by an intellectual property dispute with the park?s departing concessions company.

?We feel we have to change the names,? Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said in an interview Thursday. ?With the ongoing litigation, we feel this step is necessary.?

The famed Ahwahnee is slated to become The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. Curry Village will become Half Dome Village, and the Wawona Hotel will become Big Trees Lodge.

In other changes, the popular Badger Pass Ski Area will be renamed the less evocative Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area, and the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls will be reconfigured as the Yosemite Valley Lodge.

The park has a point, in that no one is coming there for the names. And while it’ll certainly annoy traditionalists who are used to those names, it seems like a reasonable move to effectively pull the rug out from under Delaware North.

Still, the whole thing is pretty crazy — starting with the idea that the concession provider should ever have held the trademarks on these classic and traditional names within a national park. Delaware North is somewhat apoplectic about this new move, claiming that it is “shocked and disappointed that the National Park Service would consider using the beloved names of places in Yosemite National Park as a bargaining chip in a legal dispute.” Of course, that’s hilarious since it was Delaware North who did that first, using “the beloved names” as a “bargaining chip” in trying to get its contract renewed. Delaware North also makes a bullshit claim that it had “previously offered to lease these trademarks, free of any charge” leaving out the fact that this required it to receive the new contract, rather than any competitor.

In the end, we’re left with a ridiculous situation all around. These are trademarks that probably never should have existed in the first place, and if they did, they never should have been held by the concessions vendor. And then, once that happened, everything else becomes a huge mess, and ends with one of our most famous national parks changing the names on a number of historic places and landmarks. Isn’t trademark law fun?

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Companies: delaware north, dncy

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Comments on “Yosemite Changing The Names Of Popular Park Landmarks Following The Most Ridiculous Trademark Dispute Ever”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

"For your attempted extortion, you get NOTHING. Enjoy."

Gotta love what the park did here. Delaware North tried to threaten them with a huge legal expense unless they got the contract, the park gave the contract to someone else, Delaware North followed through on the threat, and the park responds by nullifying the basis for the threat entirely.

The park has to change some names sure, but Delaware North comes out looking all kinds of stupid after their little threat backfired on them, and you can be sure that they’re going to have a wicked time fooling anyone else to sign them up to provide service, given the stunt they just tried to pull.

radix (profile) says:

Re: "For your attempted extortion, you get NOTHING. Enjoy."

I wonder if this is temporary.

They award the contract to a new company, who is required to purchase the (newly devalued) IP, then the parks buy those names for pennies on the dollar, and finally, return the facilities to their original names by the end of the year.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: "For your attempted extortion, you get NOTHING. Enjoy."

Gotta love what the park did here.

Indeed. We’ve seen many other petty disputes here on TD but this is a winner. If everybody starts pulling the nuclear option for IP abuses (ie: Google in Spain or this) we’d see change for sure.

But in the end this usually comes as good for the little guy pulling the nuclear option: they already got all the advertising and media coverage they’d never get if things remained unchanged.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "For your attempted extortion, you get NOTHING. Enjoy."

I’m kinda wondering if, in this case, it would have been better with the park caving in. This’d have left open the opportunity to point out to taxpayers that they’re paying more than they otherwise would have because of IP law abuse.

With the nuclear option, it could be the case that everyone will just say ‘Hey, someone tried to abuse IP laws and failed. The system is fine exactly as it is.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hang em from the highest tree

Exactly. How does a company trademark a building/facility name in which they provide a contracted service? Is there such a thing as trademark squatting? Seem to me Gov could argue company improperly trademarked names, not that I know anything about trademark law mind you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Hang em from the highest tree

Seems to me there were two more “nuclear options” here, given that a national park is run by the federal government:

1. Simply take the names using the power of eminent domain. Particularly appropriate with a trademark, copyright, or patent, as the government created it to begin with. Congress giveth and Congress taketh away.

2. Just keep using them, get sued, and invoke sovereign immunity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: New Looney Tunes Character Speaks out

Don’t cloud this rant with relevant issues. This type of outburst is best addressed by people who know little about any of the actual facts and who are most willing to spout their unsupported opinions. People appreciate emotional responses to complex legal topics and discount the role of law, tort precedent, and contract obligations.

Charles (profile) says:

Re: Re: IP transfer

From SCO v Novell Timeline http://www.groklaw.net/staticpages/index.php?page=20040319041857760

Order from 12/20/05 Hearing – No 100% Transfers of Business in Novell to SC or SC to Caldera

We did learn the copyrights were not transferred to SCO as they were not listed. SCO had no standing to sue anyone over Unix or Linux copyrights. Groklaw has hundreds and hundreds of articles and court documents on this case and others if you care to research. I read the site for years- I still miss it.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Here's a suggestion...

(They do it to other folks who haven’t even been charged with a crime, why not this case?)

Probably because other folks don’t have the honorary “INC”, “LLC” or “Corporation” at then end of their name. This is, after all, not someone transporting a “large” amount of money in their personal vehicle or in their carry on or checked luggage.

LAquaker (user link) says:

Stop the whining, giving away our commons is the Amerkan way

In 1971 the Army began construction of ‘Western Medical Institute of Research’, employing from 500 to 600 scientists & medical technicians – in the parking lot of Letterman Army Hospital.
Protests began against the institute by the ‘Coalition Opposed to Medical and Biological Attack’ or COMBAT. Protesters claimed that the new institute would research chemical and biological weapons to attack certain races of people. JonesTown? Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome? SF Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk (27 November 1978) were friends of Jones (18 November 1978) a politician in Indianapolis.
All was torn down, and a new National Park was created.
George Lucas leased the grounds of the Institute from the National Park Service for 99 years.

Disclamer; 1. Ann McGuire was on my ward at Letterman on 12 September 1979.
2. My Father’s childhood farm was within view of Half Dome.

bugmenot (profile) says:

Meanwhile, Minneapolis is starting to envy St. Louis


The Vikings have asked [Judge Donovan] Frank to issue an emergency order to force Wells Fargo to cover signs on the rooftops of their two 17-story buildings adjacent to the new U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

[Lawyer Kevin] Coan said monetary damages would not be enough to compensate the harm because the Vikings had a right to control the image of the area surrounding the stadium. The Vikings negotiated the sign agreement with Ryan Companies, the developer of the project, which includes a $300 million investment from Wells Fargo. The Vikings’ authority to negotiate and control the area surrounding the stadium flowed from the initial stadium legislation.

Jane B (profile) says:

Where is the Dept of the interior on this? Do they want to hand over

power to vending companies to co-opt historic place names?

How could Yosemite allow a food service to “trademark” its names? Is there a “trademark lawyer” who can unravel this?

Theatres and ballparks lose their original names when they are bought by a corporation. So if the Helen Hayes Theatre is formerly owned by the Schuberts and is sold to Boeing and Boeing tastelessly wants the name changed to Boeing Theatre, they have the right to do that.

But does a food service company “own” names in a national park when it doesn’t own the park? or even operate it? That’s a new one.

Where is the federal govt, Dept of the Interior, when you need them? The Natl Park Service?

Why are they acting like they have sold Yosemite to some crummy concessionaire? Did DNC have a really wily lawyer who outsmarted the US govt on a contract? And if they did, pay them off and keep what is ours.

It is outrageous that a concession company can afford a suit like this and the mighty US Govt is unable to fight it. Everything screams “wrong.”

Anonymous Coward says:

late to the party here, but i bear really bad news. bear.

what really stinks is that company trademarked the names delaware and north, too. the states delaware, north carolina, and north dakota, together with north america, the north pole, ollie north, 77 colleges and universities, and three native american tribes will all be going by new names henceforth.

in related news, one federal employee will be stapled to a tree on the front lawn of the white house.

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