California Senate Votes to Ban Trademarks at State Parks

Although the law would not affect federal landmarks, including those in Yosemite National Park, the California Senate is backing legislation that will prohibit trademark claims at state parks.

Seal of CaliforniaOn Tuesday, Senators unanimously approved AB2249, sending it back to the Assembly. The bill would prohibit concessionaires from claiming ownership of a name associated with a California state park.

In 2015, Delaware North sued the National Park Service in the United States Court of Federal Claims for breach of contract. The suit was filed as DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite, Inc. vs. The United States of America.

The suit was filed after Delaware North claimed that the National Park Service had breached its obligation to require Aramark to purchase trademarks and other intangible property related to concession facilities in Yosemite National Park. Delaware North was required to purchase all relevant tangible and intangible property rights of the Yosemite Park & Curry Company, the previous vendor, under its contract with the park service when it took over concessions at Yosemite in 1993. Delaware North paid $61.5 million to the Yosemite Park & Curry Company, about $115 million in 2015 dollars. This amount included payment for trademarks such as “Go Climb a Rock” and the names of Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Village, and Badger Pass. In a court filing the Justice Department claimed the property in question is worth only $3.5 million.

Ahwahnee Hotel - Yosemite National Park

Ahwahnee Hotel – Yosemite National Park

Delaware North’s management stated that they are unsure why the park service isn’t enforcing the firm’s contractual rights. They characterized the park service’s position as “taking Aramark’s side.” Delaware North also noted that payment would be made by Aramark, not the federal government.

The same contract with the park service required that any successor to Delaware North would have to buy out its Yosemite-related assets at fair market prices. Indeed, when the government put the concession contract for Yosemite up for bid, the notices it published explicitly stated the winner would be required to purchase furniture, equipment, vehicles, and “other property.” The National Park Service, by request of Delaware North, amended the bid notice to explicitly mention intellectual property.

Delaware North offered the National Park Service and the new concessionaire a free license to use all relevant trademarks until their legal dispute is resolved in order to avoid changing the names of service venues and impacting park visitors. The park service announced that it would rename attractions in Yosemite on March 1, 2016, the day Aramark takes over management. Delaware North called the named changes a “bargaining ploy.” Mark Bartholomew, a law professor, stated that renaming areas of Yosemite was deliberately designed to hurt Delaware North’s case by devaluing its trademarks.

This dispute is far from over, but California is taking steps to make sure a similar situation does not happen elsewhere in the state.

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