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Yosemite Park Trademark Dispute Prompts Name Change

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. | Last updated on

Nature enthusiasts were disappointed to learn that last week Yosemite National Park announced the change of some building names on its land due to a trademark dispute with Delaware North, the former park concessioner. Called "a fairly pedestrian contract dispute" by Mother Jones, the case has grown important to many because a beloved national park is at the heart of this matter.

It feels to many like an attack by business on a sacred space. And that is how the National Parks Service (NPS) wants us to feel. But what is really at stake?

The People's Parks

Several buildings at Yosemite are changing names because the former concessioner claims to own the trademark to those places and is arguing about their value with the NPS. The famed Ahwahnee Hotel, built in the 1920s, will be renamed The Majestic Yosemite Hotel and Curry Village will be Half Dome Village. The Yosemite Lodge at the Falls will be Yosemite Valley Lodge and the Wawona Hotel will be Big Trees Lodge.

By renaming these places, the NPS takes the wind out of Delaware North's legal claims. What value to a trademark that names no place?

"Yosemite National Park belongs to the American people," Park Superintendent Don Neubacher said in a statement on Thursday announcing the name changes. "While it is unfortunate that we must take this action, changing the names of these facilities will help us provide seamless service to the American public during the transition to the new concessioner," Neubacher explained.

If this statement seems to explain little to you, however, it's because it's not that clear. In fact, what happened is that Yosemite and the company that used to run its concessions -- Delaware North -- are in disagreement over the value of certain trademark rights that Delaware North holds. While that dispute plays out in court, the National Parks Service changed some names, making the success or failure of the company's claims less critical to continued business at the park.

Delaware North's Names

Delaware North said it purchased the rights to the names in 1993 for $115 million "in today's dollars" and offered the park service free use of the names until the court decides this valuation case. The park says the trademarks are not worth nearly what the company claims, and made Delaware North's point moot by changing the building names.

The company expressed dismay that the National Parks Service changed the names preemptively. "(Delaware North) is shocked and disappointed that the National Park Service would consider using the beloved names of places in Yosemite National Park as a bargaining chip in a legal dispute between DNCY and the NPS involving basic contract rights," the company said last week.

What's in a Name?

As for us, the people for whom the park is preserved, perhaps we can take a philosophical approach. What's in a name after all? And won't a hotel by any other name still look out on trees, as long as it's at Yosemite?

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