Ahwahnee, By Any Other NameJan 16, 2015 IP Legal Forum
What’s in a name? Apparently $51 million.
The National Park Service is currently looking for a new concessionaire to manage hotels, transportation, recreation activities, and other facilities and services in Yosemite National Park. The Park Service estimates that it will likely cost the winning bidder $29 million to buy out its existing concessionaire’s property and inventory in the park.
The problem? Delaware North, the park’s current concessionaire, claims that it owns the trademarks to the names of some of Yosemite’s most popular sites, such as the Ahwahnee Hotel, Badger Pass, Yosemite Lodge, the Wawona Hotel, and Curry Village – even though the names were in place long before Delaware won the park’s concessions contract in 1993. These names, according to Delaware, are worth $51 million. Along with an additional $15 million in “Other Property,” Delaware claims that a winning contractor will have to pay closer to $100 million to buy out all of its property interests in Yosemite.
The Park Service is currently sidestepping the potential trademark issue to encourage other concessionaires to bid: rather than insisting that bidders procure the names, the Park Service will permit the winning concessionaire to rename the sites, subject to approval by the Service. A new concessionaire could also conceivably negotiate directly with Delaware North to acquire the names at a lower price, if it chooses to do so. Given that Yosemite has had no trouble attracting campers and visitors (to the point where would-be campers must wake up at 6 a.m. several months in advance to reserve a camping spot), it doesn’t seem likely that a name change will significantly affect the park’s popularity.
Nobody likes change, but sometimes it’s necessary. Especially if it costs $51 million to maintain the status quo.