Courts & Crime

Yosemite trademark dispute takes new turns in law and politics

Yosemite National Park’s concessionaire executives met with National Park Service officials on Dec. 8, 2014. On that, at least, they agree.

What happened next, though, remains in dispute, like so much else involving renewal of the park’s lucrative concessions contract. Company executives say the park service “pressured” them to give up valuable intellectual property. Park service officials, in their latest court filing, deny it.

The conflicting recollections are becoming commonplace. From the courtroom to the California state Legislature, this multimillion-dollar conflict over Yosemite’s intellectual property is heating up like an ugly divorce to a long marriage.

“People all around California have heard of this and are outraged by it,” state Assemblyman Kenneth Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, said Thursday. “The people I talk to evince almost a sensation of experiencing physical pain to think of such familiar spots as Camp Curry being tossed aside because of this dispute.”

The departing Yosemite concessionaire, a subsidiary of Delaware North called DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, wants compensation for the value of the names in the park that it trademarked, including The Ahwahnee hotel, Curry Village and Wawona. The company pegs the value of the trademarks and other intangible property at $51 million.

The park service counters that the dollar value of the trademarked Yosemite names and other intangible property adds up to only $3.5 million. With the opposing parties seeming to stiffen their positions, Yosemite officials say they will change the affected names March 1, when a new concession company takes over.

The Ahwahnee, for one, is slated to become The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, while Curry Village is being renamed Half Dome Village.

Incited by the Yosemite names controversy, Cooley and Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, on Thursday introduced legislation restricting the trademarking of names associated with state parks, which Cooley said was “intended to send a message” about national parks as well.

Dan Jensen, former president of Delaware North’s operations in Yosemite, said Thursday that important, unanswered issues included whether the park facility’s names should be protected and who should own the rights to them.

“Those are really fair and relevant questions,” Jensen said.

The congressman who represents Yosemite, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, said he saw “no excuse” for the park service’s proposed name changes, noting that Delaware North had offered to let the park service continue using the disputed names at no cost while the dispute was litigated.

The litigation, meanwhile, is now fully joined in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. With the company’s 25-page revised complaint and the park service’s revised 37-page response, filed Feb. 11, the competing filings show how the disputes have spread since the company sued last September.

The company now enumerates 133 distinct points in its complaint. The park service counters with 197 points, many of them flatly denying DNCY’s assertions.

The two sides, for instance, recount markedly different versions of the Dec. 8, 2014, meeting. DNC officials claim that the park service agreed to meet and discuss intellectual property valuation only “after months of requests.” The meeting, they say, did not go well.

“NPS declined to discuss the fair value of DNCY’s property and instead pressured DNCY to waive its rights to be compensated for intellectual property and capital improvements,” the company says in its legal filing. “DNCY offered to submit the disputed issues to an expedited binding arbitration. NPS did not accept this offer.”

In their own latest filing, prepared by Justice Department attorneys, park service officials acknowledge the meeting but deny the company’s “characterizations” of what happened.

The government’s Feb. 11 filing further reveals that a Patent and Trademark Office examiner last month rejected a DNCY application to register a Yosemite design trademark. The company had filed the application last year after it had already lost the concession contract and sued the park service. The examiner rejected it “in part because the trademark would have presented a false association” between the company and the park service, the government’s filing says.

The government’s latest filing recounts, as well, how the concession company filed a bid protest last year with the Government Accountability Office. The filing omits the fact that the nonpartisan GAO criticized some of the park service’s handling of the protest, but it does correctly state that the complaint was dismissed last April.

Two months later, the park service awarded the new Yosemite contract to a subsidiary of Aramark. The 15-year contract is worth an estimated $2 billion.

Michael Doyle: 202-383-0006, @MichaelDoyle10