The World's Most Ridiculous Trademark Dispute Is Now Over: Yosemite Gets Its Names Back

from the trademark-insanity dept

A little over three years ago, we wrote about what may be one of the world's dumbest trademark disputes (involving one of the world's most beautiful places). Yosemite National Park was in a massive trademark dispute concerning the names of various places (mainly lodging places) within the park. The background was a bit confusing, but the short version is that back in 1988, the company that operated the various facilities in Yosemite, the Curry Company, registered trademarks on the names of the various sites -- including the famous historic Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Village and Yosemite Lodge. In 1993, the concessions contract passed from Curry Company onto a subsidiary of Delaware North called DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite (DNCY). It appears that the trademarks that Curry Company registered passed on to DNCY, though basically everyone forgot/ignored the trademarks.

Part of DNCY's contract was that if another concession company took over, DNCY had to "sell and transfer" any interest it had in the park, including "such other property." Fast forward to a few years ago, and Yosemite decided to drop DNCY in favor of concessions giant Aramark. Suddenly, DNCY "rediscovered" that it held the trademarks. It offered to lease them to the park for "free"... but only if Yosemite retained DNCY as the concessions company. Yosemite said no, and DNCY started demanding money for the trademarks. Lots and lots of money -- between $30 and $51 million at different times in the process. Yosemite, on the other hand, countered that the trademarks were worth, at best, somewhere between $1.5 and $3 million. DNCY eventually sued for $44 million.

Yosemite then went with the nuclear option and renamed all the historic spots in the park. So for the past three years, the Ahwahnee has been called "The Majestic Yosemite Hotel," Curry Village became "Half Dome Village," and the Wawona Hotel became "Big Trees Lodge." I've been up to Yosemite a few times during these three years, and everyone still seemed to call the Ahwahnee the Ahwahnee (or, as I heard multiple people say, "the hotel formerly known as the Ahwahnee.")

However, a few weeks ago, everyone basically split the difference and settled the lawsuit. Delaware North walks away with $12 million -- with $3.84 million of that coming from American taxpayers, and the other $8.16 million coming from Aramark. More importantly, the deal stipulates that at the end of this contract, the trademarks "will transfer at no cost to the National Park Service."

It also apparently didn't take long for Yosemite to revert to some of the old names. It turns out (I'd never even noticed) that for the past few years, many of the new names were really just tarps covering the old names:

Of course, what's not discussed in all of this is what sort of insanity it was that third party concession companies were ever allowed to trademark historic names in a National Park. It seems like that is something that should be explored and other parts of the National Park Service should make sure that private companies haven't claimed trademarks on other things throughout the country.

Filed Under: ahwahnee hotel, curry village, national parks, trademark, yosemite
Companies: aramark, delaware north, dncy


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  • icon
    Gary (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 1:17pm

    Imaginary Property

    It's all about taking something from the public and selling it back, eh?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 1:34pm

    "Hey Boo Boo, let's go steal the names of all the pick-a-nick baskets..."

    It just doesn't have the same ring to it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 30 Jul 2019 @ 3:32pm

    Sucks

    Totally sucks that they caved and paid that much. A rose by any other name.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 30 Jul 2019 @ 3:58pm

    Why would DNCY receive anything? Let them keep the names and the taxpayers pay nothing. Sounds as if a private entity shouldn't have received the trademark in the first place so just invalidate the trademark.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    christenson, 30 Jul 2019 @ 5:13pm

    Hey Trademark Geeks!

    Why didn't the park service file to have the trademarks cancelled???

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 30 Jul 2019 @ 6:13pm

      Re: Hey Trademark Geeks!

      Because it would have cost even more, I presume. Normally just abandoning the trademark should get it tossed out but...
      I haven't looked over the material but it may have something to do with the original contract moblixing matters.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    dickeyrat, 31 Jul 2019 @ 4:19am

    This will all moot out before we know it. See, Blump WILL continue in power long past 2021. Without going into how and why, we do know his regime will wind up selling off all Federal lands. Yosemite is a prize jewel, and will go for premium top-dollar to condo developers and oil companies. In not too many years from now, we'll find ourselves nostalgic for a mere name dispute, while this beautiful valley is fracked away, and made into summer homes for Bay Area and L.A. plutocrats. At least there might be room left for an annual Devin Nunes jackbooting festival, and a golf course or two.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2019 @ 6:07am

    Considering that not long ago, Americans were watching TV, on average, over 4 hours (240 minutes) a day, perhaps this bill should be called the "care and promotion of couch potatoes act." Entertainment is OK if it is mindless enough.

    Full disclosure: I do not own a TV but there is a book calling my name.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Madeline, 31 Jul 2019 @ 9:56am

    " It offered to lease them to the park for "free"... but only if Yosemite retained DNCY as the concessions company. Yosemite said no, and DNCY started demanding money for the trademarks"

    That's just objectively not true. I followed the changeover religiously as someone who frequents the park. The bidding process was over and Aramark had already been chosen when the trademark dispute rose to the surface. Basically the NPS accepted a prospectus from Aramark that did not include the purchase of the trademarks, hence why Aramark managed to out in such a low bid and still win. In all if this, DNCY and Aramark acted their parts. It was the NPS that fucked up. Either they forgot about the trademarks (bad) or they thought DNCY would not care (stupid) so at the end if the day, just another incompetent government screwed-up that is costing the taxpayers money

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Scott S. (profile), 31 Jul 2019 @ 12:53pm

    legal standing, fraud?

    Do any trademark experts or lawyers know how a private entity like a concessions company could possibly have legal standing to register federal trademarks on the assets of a public entity and treasure like a National Park?

    Did the NPS or Aramark ever allege lack of standing or bona fide ownership, or fraud against DNCY's trademarks? If not, their lawyers are apparently weak and incompetent, and/or they conceded that DNCY's trademarks were legit (and that Yosemite's lawyers must've really effed up the DNCY contract).

    Trademark litigation is notoriously expensive, but not as costly as the $12 million Yosemite and Aramark forked out, including the nearly $4 million being paid by American taxpayers, but not including whatever they spent fighting over Yosemite's trademarks the last several years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 31 Jul 2019 @ 5:49pm

    Does Yosemite Taste As Good As Vegemite?

    Enquiring down-under minds would like to know...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mitch Stoltz, 1 Aug 2019 @ 2:23pm

    This had other unfortunate fallout

    This dispute inspired some California legislators to write a bill that would have required state agencies to register as many trademarks (and copyrights) as they could on state-produced materials, making a whole bunch of public records subject to IP claims by the state, all so nothing like this could ever happen at the state level. Fortunately it didn't pass.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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