The trademark spat that is prompting the National Park Service to change the names of a handful of treasured sites at Yosemite, including the Ahwahnee Hotel and Curry Village, has taken a startling turn – to the park’s gift shops.
Merchandise embossed with the name “Yosemite National Park,” from T-shirts to coffee mugs to pens, will be pulled from store shelves this week because of claims by the park’s outgoing concessionaire that it owns the name for commercial purposes, according to the park’s new operator, Aramark, which is based in Philadelphia.
Aramark officials, who on Tuesday take the reins of Yosemite’s many hotels, restaurants and shops from longtime management company Delaware North, plan to begin selling souvenir items with the name “Yosemite” instead of “Yosemite National Park.”
While the switch may be small, it follows the Park Service’s decision last month to rename five famed sites to which Delaware North also claims rights, and the move is likely to heighten public outrage over the unpopular changes.
“No one should be able to steal the name of a national park,” said Lisa Polm of Clovis, after being told by a reporter Friday at Yosemite’s Village Store that many products would soon be swapped out. “This is terrible.”
Polm was eyeing a bright pink tee with a rustic “Yosemite National Park” imprint. It was among dozens bearing the contested name in combination with other designs and passages like “May the forest be with you” and “I made it to the top (of) Half Dome.”
Much of the merchandise, as in most shops at the park, is discounted 50 percent through Monday to move the inventory.
Delaware North declined to speak with The Chronicle about the souvenirs, offering instead a general statement by email.
“Our associates are preparing merchandise for the new concessioner as one would expect in a transition,” wrote spokeswoman Lisa Cesaro.
The squabble over the park names goes back two years when the Park Service began soliciting bids for a new concessions contract. Delaware North, which has held the contract for 24 years, told the Park Service that it wanted $51 million for its intellectual property, including the names, if another concessionaire was selected.
Delaware North’s claim to the intellectual property is based on its initial 1993 agreement with the Park Service. The company was required to buy the assets of the previous concessionaire, which owned several visitor facilities, and then turn physical structures over to the Park Service and sell “intangible” property to any successor.
The contract, however, did not spell out the details of the “intangible” property, giving rise to the current issues.
Delaware North has since registered trademarks for several park names, including “Yosemite National Park.” That name was accepted on grounds that the company, by contract, was the exclusive purveyor of park products, according to legal documents. The trademark applies only to merchandising and does not affect the park’s name.
In June, Delaware North lost its bid for the concessions contract to Aramark, a 15-year deal worth an estimated $2 billion.
The company has since sued the Park Service for not requiring the new operator to buy its intellectual property. The Park Service contends the value of the property is contingent on Delaware North having the contract and is now worth no more than $3.5 million.
To prevent further legal tangles, the Park Service announced last month that five sites trademarked by Delaware North will be renamed after the company departs on Monday.
The Ahwahnee Hotel will be changed to the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, Curry Village to Half Dome Village, Badger Pass Ski Area to Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, Wawona Hotel to Big Trees Lodge and Yosemite Lodge at the Falls to Yosemite Valley Lodge.
Chelsea Schultz, who was visiting Yosemite from Australia, said she had heard about the site names disappearing – it’s big talk in the park – but she wasn’t aware that her newly purchased jacket is also likely to become history.
“It’s disappointing,” she said, wearing her half-price “Yosemite National Park” coat and realizing it might soon be a collector’s item.
“That’s really a small concession, though,” she added. “Hopefully, they’ll be able to use the name again.”
Despite the trademark, Delaware North is not the only company selling merchandise with the “Yosemite National Park” label. A quick online search shows that several vendors offer such products, from the North Face’s Yosemite National Park tri-blend tee for $25 to dozens of similar shirts from smaller Amazon sellers.
It’s unclear whether Delaware North intends to act on cases of potential trademark infringement.