National Park Service loses early round in Yosemite’s trademarks fight

The historic Ahwahnee Hotel lit up as dusk falls over Yosemite Valley, in this file photo.
The historic Ahwahnee Hotel lit up as dusk falls over Yosemite Valley, in this file photo. Fresno Bee

The National Park Service has lost an early round of legal maneuvering over Yosemite National Park’s trademarked names, as a multi-front fight narrows to the court venue preferred by the aggrieved former concessionaire.

In a procedural move that might shape the final outcome, the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board this week put on hold the park service’s request to cancel certain Yosemite-area trademarks.

The board’s decision led, on Thursday, to a U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge rejecting the park service’s request that she postpone consideration of a legal challenge by concessions company DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite Inc.

The dual rulings mean the concessions company, a subsidiary of the Buffalo-based Delaware North, can play offense instead of defense in a court of its own choosing. It might also speed the resolution of the Yosemite names dispute, as the trademark board had initially scheduled its hearings to take place next May.

On Tuesday, a new park concessions company takes over. The departing company, a subsidiary of New York-based Delaware North, trademarked the names “Ahwahnee,” “Curry Village” and “Yosemite Lodge,” during its tenure and now contends it must be paid

“It is the policy of the board to suspend proceedings in a pending case when the parties are involved in a civil action, which action may be dispositive of or have a bearing on the board case,” the board noted in its ruling Wednesday.

Citing this “important development,” Delaware North’s attorneys on Thursday asked Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith to stay the park service’s request that she postpone hearing the company’s lawsuit until the trademark board acted.

The (trademark) board should not countenance a tactical attempt to destroy or devalue trademark assets that are at issue in the litigation.

DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite

Campbell-Smith agreed, in a one-page order issued on the same day that gives the Obama administration appointee the next say in how the trademark dispute unfolds.

Until a competing firm took over March 1, DNC managed Yosemite’s major lodging and recreation concessions. In a move that’s since drawn controversy, the company secured trademark protection for some popular Yosemite-area names, including the Ahwahnee hotel.

Last September, after losing the lucrative Yosemite contract to a subsidiary of Aramark, DNC sued the park service in the claims court. The company didn’t challenge the contract decision, but said it was owed money for its intangible property at Yosemite, which included the trademarked names.

Yosemite National Park attracts about 4 million visitors every year, and those visitors arrive with money to spend. Yosemite is an important economic engine to nearby communities in its "gateway" region within 60 miles of the park. The National Pa

A study commissioned by the company valued the trademarked names at $44 million, while the park service countered that they were worth far less.

Amid the dispute, in what Delaware North called a pressure tactic, the park service changed the names of trademarked properties earlier this year. The Ahwahnee, for instance, is now called the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. The government also asked that its Trademark Trial and Appeal Board case against the trademarks move before the lawsuit.

“It is clear that (the government’s) cancellation petition is simply a tactic in the ongoing litigation,” DNC’s attorneys said.