U.S. Park Service Escalates Battle Over Yosemite Trademark Names With Delaware North

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By Glynn Wilson –

The National Park Service is escalating its legal battle with private contractor Delaware North over Yosemite National Park historic, trademark names.

The Park Service, under the Department of the Interior, has taken the offensive by formally urging the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in Washington, D.C. to cancel the Yosemite trademark registrations, secured somehow by a subsiciary of Delaware North, the park’s previous “concessionaire.”

Delaware North lost in its bid to renew the contract to handle hospitality concessions in the park in January, prompting a lawsuit in which the company claimed to own the names as intellectual property.

“These registrations are causing damage and injury to the National Park Service,” Interior Department attorneys said in a filing with the trademark board.

Delaware North’s lawyers called the National Park Service’s trademark cancellation demands “particularly astounding,” and they are urging the trademark board to back off until a separate lawsuit is resolved in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

“It is clear that the cancellation petition is simply a tactic in the ongoing litigation,” attorneys for DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite told the trademark board in a March 14 response.

Some critics of Delaware North say its claims to owning these historic place names is “astounding,” and urge the Park Service to keep up the fight to beat the private company in court, whatever it takes.

The trademark board proceedings will last through at least May 2017, according to recent filings.

“We’ll see what comes out of the court of claims and the trademark board,” Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said Thursday, according to McClatchy newspapers, which broke the story.

Until the competing firm Aramark Sports and Entertainment took took over the lucrative, 15-year Yosemite contract March 1, private Buffalo-based Delaware North handled Yosemite’s major lodging and recreation operations, along the way filing to secure trademark protection for some popular Yosemite names, including the legendary Ahwahnee hotel.

The park service stopped using the trademarked names on March 1 to avoid a potential court fight over Delaware North’s $50 million claim. The famed Ahwahnee became the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, for example.

“The NPS currently estimates sign replacement costs required by the name changes to be $1.7 million,” Interior Department attorneys told the trademark board.

Delaware North has countered that the name changes were a pressure tactic by the government and unnecessary because the company had offered free use of the names pending resolution of the dispute.

The Interior Department filed its trademark board petition Feb. 26 to cancel the trademark registrations covering five names, including “Yosemite National Park,” “The Ahwahnee,” “Curry Village,” “Wawona” and “Badger Pass.”

“The fame or reputation of the National Park Service is such that, when the (names) are used with DNCY’s goods or services, a connection with the National Park Service is presumed,” Interior Department attorneys wrote, adding that the board can cancel trademarks that “falsely suggest a connection with persons, institutions, or national symbols.”

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board is an administrative body, but its three-judge panels handle proceedings much like civil lawsuits in federal court.

The board canceled the registration of the Washington “Redskins” football team in 2014, on the grounds that the name disparaged Native Americans. The board rejected a challenge to the “Skippy” peanut butter trademark as another example, but it recently sustained a challenge to a proposed “Mr. Rescue Plumbing and Drain Cleaning” trademark.

In the fight over Yosemite place names, the battle could turn on which front gets priority, according to McClatchy’s reporting.

The Interior Department said in a March 17 legal filing it wants the claims court to postpone action on the concession company’s lawsuit until the trademark board resolves the trademark challenge.

Delaware Noth wants it the other way around, saying the lawsuit, not the trademark challenge, should be considered first.

“Resolution of the litigation involving the contract will determine the fair value of the registered marks at issue in this proceeding, and the contract requires that the registered marks shall be purchased by and reside with the new concessioner,” the company’s attorneys said in a March 14 filing.

But the Park Service maintains that the trademark names are of national importance and belong to the American people, the federal government.

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© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.