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Yosemite National Park name fiasco

January 17, 2016

    If you are heading to Yosemite National Park®, the names of certain historical locales will have changed.  For example, the The Ahwahnee® Hotel now will be known as the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, and Badger Pass® Ski Area will be Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.

    Why the name changes?

    Surprisingly, the National Park Service (NPS) doesn't own the trade or service marks associated with those locales.  Rather, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc. ("DNC"), the outgoing concessionaire, owns them.

    And why would a concessionaire own such marks?

    In a breathtakingly inane decision, NPS decided that the concessionaires should maintain, create and own such assets.  When the outgoing concessionaire Yosemite Park & Curry Co. ("Curry") was replaced in 1993, DNC was forced to acquire all the tangible and intangible assets and liabilities of Curry.  Among the intangible assets acquired were the trade and service marks related to Yosemite National Park.

    When DNC lost the concessions contract for Yosemite National Park, DNC was required to sell its assets and liabilities related to Yosemite National Park to the next concessionaire, an Aramark subsidiary.  DNC requested $51 million dollars to turn over the trademarks and other intangible property.  The NPS rejected the demand as too high, and after failed negotiations, the NPS told the new concessionaire to rename the locales (DNC v. NPS Complaint, hosted on Mega.nz).

     This whole debacle could have been avoided if the NPS evaluated properly the assets being transferred.  Given the historical significance of the trademarked names, it doesn't make sense that a concessionaire, who is providing hospitality services for only a limited period of time, should own them.  The NPS should have acquired those assets and then licensed them to the concessionaire.  Additionally, the NPS should require that if a concessionaire creates any new intangible assets, that they are assigned to the NPS to be licensed back to the concessionaire.

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