Wendel Rosen's Intellectual Property Blog

Ahwahnee, By Any Other Name

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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.

 

2 Responses to “Ahwahnee, By Any Other Name”

  1. NAParish

    Do we know why the NPS didn’t try and trademark those names on their own? I know the federal government cannot copyright their works, but I believe that they are allowed to obtain trademarks.

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    • Katherine Kao

      Interesting point! Prior to Delaware North, the Curry Company owned and operated the concessions in Yosemite for almost a century – and Curry very well may have registered their own trademarks during that time. In fact, one of Delaware’s arguments in favor of the high price tag is that when it became the concessioner in 1993, it was required to purchase all of Curry’s interests in the park, which included IP.

      The federal government can own trademarks, so it’s entirely possible that the Park Service may have attempted to negotiate ownership of the Yosemite trademarks at some point. However, I’m just speculating.

      Any history buffs should feel free to chime in.

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      Reply

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