Iconic names at Yosemite are subject of $51 million trademark battle
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Jeremy Jacobs Sr., owner of the Boston Bruins and TD Garden, is locked in an unusual trademark fight with the US government, a standoff that the National Park Service said has forced it to rename a landmark hotel and other sites at historic Yosemite National Park.
A Jacobs company, DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite, has run lodges, restaurants, and retail outlets at the popular park in California since 1993. After losing the concession contract last year, it went to court seeking compensation for what it says is $51 million of intellectual property, including trademarks on everything from ski and golf areas to the Yosemite National Park name itself.
Government attorneys have valued the intellectual property at about $3.5 million, and called DNC Parks' estimate "grossly exaggerated and improper."
The National Park Service is worried the dispute could prevent it from using the names when the contract is turned over to the new concession operator, Aramark, on March 1.
That concern prompted Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher to announce Thursday that he is changing the names of some well-known facilities at the park, including the famed Ahwahnee Hotel, which was built in 1927 and still offers afternoon tea service.
Scott Gediman, a spokesman for Yosemite, said the park would change the names to avoid liability or the potential for closures as a result of the ongoing court battle.
While DNC Parks inherited some of the trademarks when it won the Yosemite contact back in the 1990s, it registered others in ensuing years without the government's knowledge, according to Gediman. "They did it all quietly and they did not inform us," Gediman said.
But Todd Merry, chief marketing officer for Delaware North, DNC Parks' parent company, said the suggestion of stealth "completely misrepresents" the company's actions. "We didn't wake up in 2012 and say let's trademark the hotel," he said. "We bought the trademark when we bought the company" more than a decade ago.
In a statement, DNC Parks said it offered to enter binding arbitration "to set a fair value for the intellectual property" and offered to allow the park service to meet independently with its appraisers so the department would understand the appraisal methodologies.
Yosemite, which spans more acreage than the state of Rhode Island, is home to Half Dome, a 4,700-foot-high granite crest that is one of the park's most recognizable features. It is also the onetime stamping ground of John Muir, Scottish-American naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club.
Today, the park draws more than 4 million visitors a year, and a 15-year concessions contract at Yosemite is valued at about $2 billion. The contract is the largest in the vast National Park system.
DNC Parks is part of Jacobs's Delaware North Cos., a Buffalo-based hospitality and food services company with $3 billion in annual revenue last year. Jacobs has owned the Bruins since 1975.
The lawsuit against the government filed by DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite, a subsidiary of Delaware North, cites fundamental unfairness over how the contract was awarded.
According to its lawsuit, DNC Parks was required to purchase the assets of its predecessor, Curry Co., when it won the Yosemite contract, and it says the National Park Service is similarly obligated to require Aramark to buy DNC's assets, including trademarks, at fair market value.
The lawsuit said the park service awarded Aramark the new contract without the same requirement. Jacobs declined to comment for this article.
DNC Parks' former president, Dan Jensen, said ownership of the trademarks is not the legal matter at issue, because no one has disputed the trademark ownership.
"There is no dispute over whether Delaware North owns the intellectual property," said Jensen, who recently retired but continues to work at DNC as a consultant. "The question is what is it worth?"
He said DNC offered two weeks ago to provide the park with the rights to use the trademarked names free of charge until "appropriate legal ownership is determined."
"I'm mystified they would take this approach," Jensen said. "It creates confusion, resentment, and misunderstanding."
DNC operates concessions at nine other national parks, including Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, Gediman said.
According to the US Trademark and Patent Office, DNC holds more than 30 trademarks related to various parks and venues, including the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the US Astronaut Hall of Fame. The company also applied for the trademark to the sole word "Yosemite" on Sept. 30, 2015.
DNC Parks operated 1,542 guest rooms, 25 food and beverage units, and 19 retail locations at Yosemite, along with a wide range of guest activities, including the Wawona golf course, the Badger Pass ski area, warehouses, and employee housing, according to the lawsuit.
Gediman said a panel of parks experts in Washington awarded the Yosemite contract to Aramark based on broad selection criteria, not due to DNC's performance.
However, the trademarking case won national attention this week in an article published by Outside magazine that prompted the Sierra Club to launch a campaign Friday demanding that DNC withdraw its lawsuit. The club encouraged its 2.4 million members and supporters to write to Jacobs personally to tell him to drop the litigation, calling the case an instance of corporate greed by a company that is already benefiting from a lucrative public contract.
"These are public assets, names that belong to all Americans," said Dan Chu, a senior director at Sierra Club.