Names ultimately matter. That's more or less the basis of trademarks as a concept: the right and the necessity to protect the name we've built for something that's ours. something we've created. Our lives are ordered in some part by names, both the ones we've coined in the recent history of modern innovation and those whose origins are lost to time. We drive to work on a series of named roads, to an office building or complex that likely has a name, to work for a company granted a name by its founder years, if not decades ago. Anything less than that would be chaos, and even the occasional re-brand has us shaken for months.
Yosemite National Park, itself a big, bright name in the national consciousness, just wrapped up a trademark case dubbed "one of the world's dumbest trademark disputes" by Techdirt, which is saying something if you are an observer of that particular space. The details of the case do have a touch of absurdity: when a company called DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite (DNCY) took over operation of the concessions at the national park in 1993, they assumed the ownership of trademarks held on various noteworthy sites on the grounds, which had been filed by the previous concession contractor. That particular fact remained an afterthought until Yosemite chose to replace DCNY with Aramark as its concessions provider. Like most looking to salvage a relationship, DCNY sought to grab whatever leverage they could, offering to license the trademarks to Yosemite for free, but only if the park retained their services. Yosemite declined, DCNY demanded licensing fees beyond what the park considered reasonable, and a $44 million lawsuit soon followed from the spurned concession company.
So far the matter reads much like any other trademark case, but where it veers sharply from that course is in its next act: rather than looking to settle or otherwise adjudicate the case and retain use of the trademarks, Yosemite simply decided to rename those particular sites across the park. The step very much has, or had, an "Artist Formerly Known as Prince" feel to it; everyone knows what those particular sites are, and what their names are in fact if not in present nomenclature, and so refuse to go along with the pretense asserted by official channels.
Fortunately, much like the late, great Purple One, the charade has been retired, as Yosemite and DCNY have settled the lawsuit for $12 million. The former names can now be returned to use, and most importantly, the settlement stipulates that the trademarks will be transferred to Yosemite at the completion of the Aramark contract, at no cost.
The entire incident feels a bit untoward, given that our national parks are meant to be part of the national trust, enjoyed by all and exploited by none, protected against the infringement of the capitalistic impulses that are as much a part of our character as our love of big, open spaces. But what's the pristine beauty of nature against the chance to make a few bucks?