The battle over Yosemite National Park trademarks is now sprawling across multiple fronts, and it could take more than a year to sort out.
Going on the offensive, the National Park Service has formally urged the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to cancel the Yosemite-affiliated trademark registrations secured by the famed park’s former concessionaire.
“These registrations are causing damage and injury to the National Park Service,” Interior Department attorneys stated in a filing with the trademark board.
The former concessionaire’s attorneys, in turn, have 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 park service’s) cancellation petition is simply a tactic in the ongoing litigation,” attorneys for DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite told the trademark board in a March 14 response.
The battle likely will go on for years. Of seven claims court decisions published over the past week, three were in cases filed in 2014 and one started in 2013.
None of this appears likely to end soon.
The trademark board proceedings will last through at least May 2017, according to recent filings. The separate fight in claims court has no set time frame for resolution, but cases before the court can drag on. Of seven claims court decisions published over the past week, three were in cases filed in 2014 and one started in 2013.
“We’ll see what comes out of the court of claims and the trademark board,” Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said Thursday.
Until a competing firm took over March 1, DNC, a subsidiary of the Buffalo-based Delaware North, handled Yosemite’s major lodging and recreation concessions. In a move that’s since ignited controversy, DNC secured trademark protection for some popular Yosemite-area names including the Ahwahnee hotel.
In 2002, without providing notice to NPS of its intent to do so, DNCY filed applications . . . to register several trademarks associated with Yosemite National Park.
Interior Department attorneys, Feb. 26, 2016
After losing the lucrative, 15-year Yosemite concession contract to a subsidiary of the Philadelphia-based Aramark Sports & Entertainment, DNCY sued the park service in claims court for what it says is the value of its intellectual property, the trademarks.
The park service responded by stopping use of the trademarked Yosemite names on March 1. The Ahwahnee, for instance, was rebranded the Majestic Yosemite Hotel.
“The NPS currently estimates sign replacement costs required by the name changes to be $1.7 million,” Interior Department attorneys advised 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 trademarks pending resolution of the dispute.
More quietly than the name changes, the Interior Department on Feb. 26 filed its trademark board petition to cancel the trademark registrations covering five names.
The trademarked names in question include “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 (trademarks) 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, though its three-judge panels handle proceedings that are similar to civil lawsuits in federal court. Its cases run a wide gamut.
The trademark board, for instance, canceled in 2014 the registration for the Washington “Redskins” football team, on the grounds that the name disparaged Native Americans. Last month, the board rejected a challenge to the “Skippy” peanut butter trademark, but in January the board sustained a challenge to a proposed “Mr. Rescue Plumbing and Drain Cleaning” trademark.
In the Yosemite fight, one turning point could be which front gets priority.
The Interior Department, in a March 17 legal filing, said it wants the claims court to postpone action on the concession company’s lawsuit until the trademark board resolves the trademark challenge.
The concession company wants it the other way around, saying the lawsuit, not the trademark challenge, should come 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 stated March 14.