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.