The Ahwahnee Hotel (photo: DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.)
The company that ran concessions at Yosemite National Park for 20 years threatened to stop the government from using trademarked names of park landmarks if it didn’t win the 15-year, $2-billion contract for renewal.
Delaware North of Buffalo, New York, didn’t get the contract in June and, true to its word, sued the government last week in U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The company alleged breach of contract, claiming the government wouldn’t compensate it for property it left behind—trademarks like the names of Ahwahnee Hotel, the Wawona Hotel, the Badger Pass ski area and Curry Village.
Delaware North also owns a trademark on “Yosemite National Park” for use on products like mugs and clothing. National Parks Traveler said the company, through its subsidiary DNC Parks and Resorts, also owned a customer Yosemite database with more than 720,000 names and “75 different informational fields,” domain names and websites.
The company earlier valued that intangible, intellectual property at $51 million. Delaware North argued in the lawsuit that the government had compelled it to buy the property of its predecessor in 1993, when it became the primary concessionaire at Yosemite. Now, it wanted the Aramark subsidiary Yosemite Hospitality, LLC to pony up for the trademarks.
The concessions, which include hotels, stables, ski runs and foot outlets, gross around $130 million a year. The park gets 9% of that.
The lawsuit said the company “maintained the registration and fully exploited the trademarks” and “created, used and registered additional (trademarks).” The Fresno Bee reported that Delaware North asserted it would have made a more compelling, and likely winning, bid if it knew there would be no compensation for their loss.
They probably had an inkling at least as far back as January, when trademark law attorney Melville Owen told the San Francisco Chronicle that the company's registration of the famous names doesn't guarantee ownership. The courts would consider first usage of the name and if any other de facto claims to the naming rights existed, he said. The Curry Village dates back to 1899 and the Ahwahnee was around in the 1920s.
The Traveler said the concessionaire's case may hinge on federal law, which lets the National Park Service keep "the name historically associated with the building or structure" regardless of any trademark.
The issue also arose last year when Xanterra Parks & Resorts, bidding on a long-term contract for servicing the Grand Canyon, filed trademark applications for a host of South Rim businesses, including lodging. But after meeting government resistance, Xanterra dropped the effort in March.