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Identity theft by trademark tramples Yosemite’s history

A nylon sign covers the wooden Camp Curry sign in Yosemite National Park.
A nylon sign covers the wooden Camp Curry sign in Yosemite National Park. rappleton@fresnobee.com

The current controversy over the Yosemite place names is a disgrace to many of our national institutions, especially to the National Park Service, the Patent and Trademark office and the courts.

Imagine the confusion facing the first-time park visitor when arriving at park amid all the traffic, congestion and then to face the place name confusion.

Admittedly, I have not seen that disputed contract, but the fallout is evident. The realization that the park service or concessionaire could write such language into a concessions contract defies logic and common sense.

At the national level, the proliferation of trademark trolls underscores the reality that our very language and maps are at risk.

Belatedly, the Trademark Office has recognized the pirating and formed the usual advisory committee – now that the horse is out of the barn.

Critics of the trademark dispute contend that place names from any approved government map of everyday usage should be off limits to the trademark opportunists.

Think of the fees I could garner if I could have trademarked my beloved California?

Delaware North, the ousted Yosemite concessionaire, claims those place names have value and that is implicit to their contract. The company has even trademarked other locations, including such high profile sites as Grand Canyon.

The current dispute is all about money. If their trademark is upheld, the company can milk those identities all the way to the bank.

Robert O. Binnewies, former Yosemite superintendent, said the historic place names that Delaware North claim as trademarks were not in the concessions contract when he was in Yosemite.

He described action as an inventive “ploy.”

The contested Yosemite names have had de facto acceptance in the public arena for years.

The famed Ahwahnee Hotel – on the National Register of Historic Sites – Camp Curry, the Wawona Hotel and Badger Pass ski area are among the disputed place names. For many Yosemite admirers, those historic names are ingrained.

Delaware North did not register those identities until the concessions contract came up for renewal. Some of which have been Yosemite landmarks for over a century. But the National Park Service caved early on, accepting the names without ever challenging the Trademark Office decision.

The constitutional intent of patent, copyright and trademark articles was to protect the original inventor, artist or writer for a reasonable period…after which the patent or title would pass to the public domain for the benefit of the nation.

Check “trademark” on the internet and the magnitude of the problem becomes apparent.

Think of the confusion and litigation if someone were to register trademark Fresno…or any other co-opted place name. There are millions of other place names on the map that could be at risk.

The glue that has bound this nations together has been the rule of law – based on the common good.

Our national parks were never intended to serve as cash cows for the commercial world. They were set aside as national treasures to be held inalienable for all times.

I grieve for the my teenage pals who gave their lives in World War II, who would now see this nation coming apart from greed and ignorance.

Gene Rose of Oakland is a retired Bee reporter who covered the region’s national parks for decades. Connect with him at ugene.rose@gmail.com.

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