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
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?