The National Park Service is stepping up its effort to restore the historic names that fell victim to a trademark dispute at Yosemite, including the monikers of the famed Ahwahnee Hotel and Curry Village, by entering into mediation with the company that wants millions of dollars to surrender the titles.
Court documents indicate that federal officials intend to work privately with representatives of Yosemite’s former concessions operator, Delaware North of Buffalo, N.Y., to settle their disagreement over who owns the site names and what they’re worth. Paperwork filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on Thursday says a mediation schedule will be established by Aug. 4.
While neither the Park Service nor Delaware North would comment on what a potential agreement might look like, park officials have long said they want to bring back the names of the five places that the company registered as trademarks before losing its contract to run the park’s hotels and services in March.
With Delaware North demanding $44 million for the names, park officials took the precautionary step of coming up with new ones, at least until their legal battle over ownership concludes, a process that could take years.
The mediated settlement offers hope of a quick and kinder resolution. Mediation typically involves one or more people who meet with the parties, often separately, to find a compromise that ends their quarrel. The two sides are not bound to any agreement that’s reached, and any deal is subject to the court’s blessing.
“It’s an opportunity to find the middle ground,” said Mel Owen, a San Francisco attorney specializing in trademark law, who has worked as a mediator in intellectual property cases.
Owen said any mediated settlement between park officials and Delaware North is likely to involve some exchange of money, though a mediator will probably also stress the importance of the two sides maintaining good relations. Delaware North has contracts with the Park Service outside Yosemite, including in nearby Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.
The dispute over the trademarks goes well beyond the legal arena to an enraged public. Many visitors saw the destination names as part of Yosemite National Park’s heritage — one that long predated Delaware North’s assumption of the concessions contract in 1993.
The Ahwahnee Hotel is a name that stems from the Indians who lived in the park before white people arrived and dates to the 1920s. Curry Village, a camp named after its founders, goes back to the late 1800s.
The Ahwahnee is now officially the Majestic Yosemite Hotel and Curry Village is Half Dome Village. In addition, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is now Yosemite Valley Lodge, Badger Pass Ski Area is the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, and the Wawona Hotel is Big Trees Lodge.
Many visitors, however, continue to use the old names, and the Park Service has not installed permanent signs to mark the new titles. It uses slip covers and temporary placards instead.
Delaware North also registered “Yosemite National Park” as a trademark. Although the trademark doesn’t affect the name of the park, it did prompt the new concessionaire to pull T-shirts and other souvenirs labeled “Yosemite National Park” from store shelves and replace them with merchandise with the simple “Yosemite” label.
Roots of dispute
The disagreement is the result of Delaware North’s initial contract with the Park Service.
As part of a deal to operate the park’s lucrative hotels, restaurants and visitor amenities, the company was required to buy the assets of the previous concessionaire, the Yosemite Park and Curry Co. Those assets included not only intellectual property but physical property that the predecessor built, including the Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Village and the other destination spots. Delaware North was also required to transfer those assets to the Park Service.
The contract, however, didn’t specify the extent of the intellectual property that should be transferred, nor its value, which is at the heart of the current feud.
When Delaware North learned last year that it had lost the concessions contract to Aramark of Philadelphia — valued at about $140 million annually — it sued the federal government to force the new concessionaire to buy its intellectual property.
The Park Service has since asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel Delaware North’s trademarks.
Calls for mediation
In a legal briefing submitted in early July, the Park Service and Delaware North jointly wrote that they “believe that, in light of the potential for resolving this matter through mediation, counsel’s time and effort would be better spent on attempting to reach a mediation agreement.”
Aramark, which took over the park’s privately run services March 1, is slated to take part in the mediation talks.
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