The privatization of the public continues apace
January 17, 2016 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Yosemite to Rename Several Iconic Places - "The National Park Service said today it will rename many well-known spots in Yosemite, as part of an ongoing legal dispute with an outgoing concessionaire that has trademarked many names in the world-famous park."
posted by a lungful of dragon (60 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ah crap. Will the apocalypse just hurry up and get here already?
posted by mule98J at 10:36 AM on January 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


Late Stage Capitalism - 'nuff said.
posted by MikeWarot at 10:37 AM on January 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


Well, that's sort of a underhanded way to grab the NPS by the balls and punish them for giving the concession contract to someone else. Seems like the trademarks never should have been allowed in the first place, but since they were, now the whole situation is where it is.
posted by hippybear at 10:37 AM on January 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


Misleading headline (from original article) makes it sound like Half Dome is going to get renamed or something, when it's just some restaurants and hotels. It's still an asshole move by the fired company though.
posted by w0mbat at 10:40 AM on January 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


The outgoing company also trademarked “Yosemite National Park”

I wonder how many I can sue if I trademark "The Pacific Ocean"?
posted by sammyo at 10:41 AM on January 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


The outgoing company also trademarked “Yosemite National Park” for merchandising purposes, said Gediman.

WTF trademark office? How is this even allowed?
posted by FireFountain at 10:51 AM on January 17, 2016 [34 favorites]


Kevin Drum has some insight.
posted by Max Power at 10:52 AM on January 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Misleading headline (from original article) makes it sound like Half Dome is going to get renamed or something, when it's just some restaurants and hotels.

Keep reading.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:52 AM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Ahwahnee isn't just some hotel, it's an icon (the interior of Kubrick's Overlook is based on it), and one of the most important manmade structures in any national park - partly because a huge luxury hotel smack in the middle of a treasured landmark could never be built now. That's a good thing, but it also gives the Ahwahnee a certain historical significance, of which its name is a part. Changing it to something as generic and ugly as "Majestic Yosemite Hotel" is a kind of defacement. And even worse: the word Ahwahnee itself is what the the valley was called by its original inhabitants, and what we probably should have been calling it all along, because Yosemite means "killers" and is what those inhabitants were called by their neighboring enemies. When we change that name, we take one more step in erasing all remnants of a culture that we destroyed.
posted by theodolite at 11:06 AM on January 17, 2016 [75 favorites]


I wonder how many I can sue if I trademark "The Pacific Ocean"?

Zero.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:10 AM on January 17, 2016


The company also has received trademarks for the phrases “Space Shuttle Atlantis,” he noted.


How is that even remotely legal?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:13 AM on January 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


Couldn't eminent domain theoretically cover intellectual property?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:14 AM on January 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


FTA: "A search on the trademark office’s website shows more than 50 trademark applications in all—most apparently successful—for phrases, logos and names, including “Wuksachi Lodge” (in Sequoia National Park), a frequently-seen, stylized logo of Yosemite’s Half Dome, and the phrase “United States Astronaut Hall of Fame.”"

How is this even possible? I would say your leaders were asleep at the wheel, but some of them are probably shareholders in the parent company and rubbing their hands with glee. We are not going to be allowed to have anything at all if this is allowed to stand.
posted by marienbad at 11:34 AM on January 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


I hate people so much sometimes.
posted by Melismata at 11:42 AM on January 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


Well, concession plates can contain beans, sooooooooo.
posted by deadaluspark at 11:50 AM on January 17, 2016


The National Park Service needs to grow the fuck up and put on its big boy pants. Change the name? Fuck no. Go ahead. Sue the park. I'd lock the doors and go, "Sorry to ruin your summer vacation, kids, but this jackass made me close the Grand Canyon. Call your congressman."

Seriously, why someone doesn't look directly into a camera and go, "The following people can kiss my ranger ass," is bewildering. I get that bureaucrats are playing for a post-government career and don't want to jeopardize their future paychecks, but surely showing that you have some stones is worth something. This is a reality TV era. Make a scene. Be here for the right reasons. Put some goddamn points on the board.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:54 AM on January 17, 2016 [54 favorites]


One thing I see everyone overlooking which seems to be at the crux of this whole issue: When it took over in 1993, DNC had to buy a few other trademarks, including for the phrase “Go Climb a Rock,” seen on many classic Yosemite Mountaineering School T-shirts and bumper stickers.

When DNC got the contract, they were told by the NPS and outgoing concessionaire: "you have to pay $$$ for these existing trademarks, to transfer their ownership to you." So DNC paid for this, and proceeded to continue to trademark additional names, and now that they have lost the contract, their perception is that "we had to buy some placename trademarks from the last concessionaire, so now we will sell all our placename trademarks to the new concessionaire."

It is slimy and fucked up that they could register these trademarks at all-- for the first concessionaire to be permitted to start it, and for DNC to continue the practice-- it's slimy and fucked up for the practice to be that concessionaires own the park placenames, and I agree that losing the historical placenames continues the oppression of those indigenous to the area. But DNC is operating within the exact same rules in which they were brought in to be concessionaires. NPS lawyers who didn't notice this loophole (or did notice but decided it wasn't worth closing or couldn't be closed) and who ignored the trademark filings over the past few years, are the ones who screwed this up. I am not a corporate apologist, and I don't like that DNC is doing this. But I can totally understand why they want to end this contract with the exact same sweetheart deal that the former concessionaire got at the close of their deal.
posted by holyrood at 11:59 AM on January 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


If patents can be overturned, so should trademarks.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:02 PM on January 17, 2016


holyrood, the DNC tried to use the trademarks to prevent the park service from changing concessionaires at all. I think you are being extremely naive if you don't think this is some innocent 'we want them to be fair' issue, as opposed to a malignancy of late stage capitalism.
posted by tavella at 12:27 PM on January 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


But I can totally understand why they want to end this contract with the exact same sweetheart deal that the former concessionaire got at the close of their deal.

Did they pay $51 million in that "exact same sweetheart deal"? Because that's what they're asking for:
The company has said this intangible property—trademarks, a database of 750,000 customers, more than a dozen websites—is worth more than $51 million, including some $44 million in trademarks, according to appraisals. The government’s appraisal pegged the total value at $3.5 million.
Given that the government appraisal was less than 7 percent of their ask, it really does just look like pure unfiltered fuck-you greed-slash-petulance.
posted by Etrigan at 12:42 PM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well yeah of course DNC wanted to make it easier to stay with them rather than changing concessionaires-- whenever a contract is up for grabs, in pretty much any context, "it's easier to keep the status quo" is always a card played by the current contract owner. I agree it is a "malignancy" but it's not arising out of new cloth now: it was set into motion in the early 1980s when DNC took over the contract and was required to pay for existing trademarks; was furthered over the past 30 years when no-one from the park service challenged the trademarking of existing names and permitted DNC to exert control over their trademarks; and continues to be wrong today. But it's not DNC's fault to play by the rules set up by the government itself, and to use whatever means necessary for negotiations, including the means by which they were hamstrung 30-odd years ago. I don't like that Yosemite National Park has to change placenames, but DNC are following the rules that the government itself set, so anger needs to be directed at the parks service and trademark as a concept, not DNC.
posted by holyrood at 12:43 PM on January 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


Did anyone read the Kevin Drum link? The NPS is essentially saying FU to DNC. By changing the place names they are rendering DNC's court case moot. No intellectual property transfer, no transfer fee, nothing. The NPS has essentially told the DNC to go ahead, take your toys and go home.

The problem isn't that there is intellectual property, and that the concessionaire owns it, its that the DNC wants to mine it for 41 million dollars over what the NPS says its worth. Clearly this is a douchebag company trying to cash out on taxpayer dollars.
posted by herda05 at 1:12 PM on January 17, 2016 [14 favorites]


This is so outrageous and distressing. I saw the news earlier this week and sincerely hoped it was satire. I'm floored that there's nothing that can be done about this. Is this really where we're at as a nation? Is there really no recourse and we have to learn these stupid names like some sick corporate branding exercise?
posted by hampanda at 1:16 PM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


The new concessions contract went to Aramark, a shitstain of a corporation incapable of providing good service or edible food no matter where it is or what it's allegedly serving. If you want to find the corruption, ask how Aramark keeps getting more and more government contracts.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:34 PM on January 17, 2016 [18 favorites]


More parasitic corporate rent seeking. Imagine my surprise.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 1:45 PM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


While there is no way I can understand the details of this, I would like to suggest that there might be other interpretations of the facts.
Here in Denmark, the highway management is trying to get rid of the smaller contractors in favor of one big international contractor (which is then interchangeable every six years). Because? I don't know. I know the smaller individual business or local chains have better food and provide better service for customers. As a person who drives a lot, if I'd heard of this idea, I would have recommended it to my favorite truck-stops.
If a company has held this concession for 23 years, they must have invested in building maintenance and improvement, education of staff and marketing in huge amounts. I'm not suggesting they are innocent small town grocers, but I do think they should have some compensation for their investments.
posted by mumimor at 1:53 PM on January 17, 2016


If a company has held this concession for 23 years, they must have invested in building maintenance and improvement, education of staff and marketing in huge amounts. I'm not suggesting they are innocent small town grocers, but I do think they should have some compensation for their investments.

They were. In the contracts they made and were paid for over the past 23 years. I don't know anything about this particular contract, but I have enough experience with government contracting to be pretty certain that DNC didn't put a single penny into these improvements that they didn't extract from either the NPS or people who stayed in the hotels. They knew that the contract had a limited lifespan and would be recompeted eventually, so it's their fault if no one ever asked "What if we don't win the recompete?"
posted by Etrigan at 2:11 PM on January 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Is there really no recourse and we have to learn these stupid names like some sick corporate branding exercise?

Of course there's recourse -- just use the old names, and ignore the new ones. For example, your locale stadium -- yes, $BigCompany bought it so now the 'real' name is $BigCompany Stadium -- but you don't have to use that new label. Another example, Washington DC's close-in airport, DCA. Republican congress-critters decide to append its name with the Gipper's. Doesn't mean you have to. Resist!
posted by Rash at 2:11 PM on January 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


Delaware North is a really bad company and their inroads into park services is shocking.

The founder was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in a 1972 piece on ties between organized crime and the Mob. While investigating a related matter in Arizona, the journalist Don Bolles was murdered by a car bomb, uttering the name of a corporate predecessor, Emprise, on his death bed.
posted by johngoren at 2:31 PM on January 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Wow, Aramark is indeed a garbage company purveying garbage food, run by garbage people who treat both their workers and their customers like garbage. They had the concession contract at my alma mater, and they were godawful on so many levels. So, that sucks.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:52 PM on January 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


a 1972 piece on ties between organized crime and the Mob

Had anyone previously suspected a connection?
posted by Wolfdog at 3:03 PM on January 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


But it's not DNC's fault to play by the rules set up by the government itself, and to use whatever means necessary for negotiations, including the means by which they were hamstrung 30-odd years ago. I don't like that Yosemite National Park has to change placenames, but DNC are following the rules that the government itself set, so anger needs to be directed at the parks service and trademark as a concept, not DNC.

Bullshit. There’s plenty of room to criticize the parks service and trademark system while at the same time being angry at DNC for their actions. “What i did was legal / within the rules” is the excuse of sociopathic assholes everywhere and i’m fucking sick of giving people like this a free pass, especially when it concerns something that is within the public sphere.
posted by D.C. at 3:09 PM on January 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


Yeah, Aramark sucks too. It's a shame that these kinds of contracts even go up for bidding. The NPS should run this stuff.
posted by rhizome at 3:35 PM on January 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Montana had a similar trademark dispute over the phrase, "The Last Best Place" a decade ago from a greedy developer. It took congressional action but we won.
posted by ITravelMontana at 3:43 PM on January 17, 2016


If they have to change names, I'm hoping for
Yo, semite.

The Catskills of the West.
posted by JackFlash at 3:46 PM on January 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Montana had a similar trademark dispute over the phrase, "The Last Best Place"

What's the current best place?
posted by Sys Rq at 3:46 PM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


The NPS should run this stuff.

It wouldn't make much sense for them to do it themselves. Concession isn't their core business at all, and the bidding companies are able to do it for so much less money because that's all they're set up to do.

This said, it seems as though the whole concession business in the parks is broken. This is a good article for explaining what's happening in this case and why there is so little competition.
posted by frumiousb at 3:46 PM on January 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


The real news here isn't that an asshole company is being assholish, nor that another asshole company is taking over for them. It's not even that the Patent and Trademark office is broken. It's that the PTO is broken to the extent that they didn't even let NPS (which is another division of their employer, the federal government) know that this shit was going on, or simply refuse to grant the trademarks. Really, what is their excuse?

As for the alleged value of the IP, ha ha, let them watch while the value shrinks as people continue to come to the park (because it's fuckin' Yosemite, duh) and their customer database grows increasingly out of date and the new customers associate old landmarks and facilities with new names.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:49 PM on January 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yosemite National Park was established in 1890. The Ahwahnee was opened in 1927. Curry Village was established in 1924. And the guys who have sold hot dogs there for the last 20 or so years are trying to claim trademark?

No doubt the contracts were screwy, and I'll admit I've had my fair share (plus a few slices more) of DNC's pizza at the Curry Village deck.

But I've also had the privilege of staying at the Ahwahnee. I've climbed Half Dome and staggered back to Curry Village by torch light. I've taken my kids to Yosemite and shown them the wildlife - I saw my first wild bear there. I've skied Badger Pass. I've driven one of the last cars to go across the Tioga Pass before a Winter closure.

Screw these guys. If corporations truly are people, I hope they get a swift kick in the nuts from a Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 4:05 PM on January 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


PTO lets any Big Co patent just about anything. One click ordering? Sure. Rounded corners on a device? No problemo. Any name? You betcha. Simple common phrase? Yep.

Seems the issue is the PTO, not various companies realizing they can "own" rights to just about anything....
posted by CrowGoat at 4:45 PM on January 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


The outgoing company also trademarked “Yosemite National Park” for merchandising purposes, said Gediman.
WTF trademark office? How is this even allowed?

Lots of cozy relationships between government employees and corporate employees I'd guess. Not all that different from the rest of the country, where contractors become huge feeding at the tax-dollar trough and slowly assume defacto control of their situations. Not all that different from a world where WTO et.al. can dictate to countries how far their environmental policies can go. They view government as the public face of their private privilege.
posted by Twang at 5:33 PM on January 17, 2016


It's interesting how DNC ended up with the concession contract in the first place. The previous concessionaire, the Yosemite Park & Curry Company, ran things in the park for almost 100 years. However, they were bought by MCA Inc., the record label and entertainment company at some point in time. MCA was then bought by Matsushita, which caused the Secretary of the Interior to throw a fit over these iconic park facilities being owned by a Japanese company. Unable to find an American buyer for the Curry Company, DNC came in.

So I could see how the Curry Company could have amassed these trademarks over the 9+ decades they ran those facilities, and the NPS didn't much care about it.
posted by zsazsa at 5:35 PM on January 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


I get that bureaucrats are playing for a post-government career and don't want to jeopardize their future paychecks, but surely showing that you have some stones is worth something.

What a bizarre thing to say and a fundamental misunderstanding of who the average federal employee is. Those "bureaucrats" are subject to the law of the land, which is written by the people YOU elect. American capitalism didn't happen because Maria and David at the National Park Service weren't "man enough" to stop it. They're probably way more frustrated by this whole thing than you are, and have less power to fix it, due to the Hatch Act. Why don't you show that you have some stones worth something and put some people in office who'll enact better public policy fighting corporations?
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:08 PM on January 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


Say. Wot? The company can patent the Ahwahnee name because the Native
Americans didn't?

FS needs to rename the (patented) Ahwahnee to The Ahwahnee. Assuming the tribe OK's it.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:23 PM on January 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


When it took over in 1993, DNC had to buy a few other trademarks, including for the phrase “Go Climb a Rock,” seen on many classic Yosemite Mountaineering School T-shirts and bumper stickers.

The "Go Climb a Rock" T-shirt was also seen on William Shatner in 1989's Star Trek V.

And now, I need to go wildly trademark public names. I think I'll start with the presidential monuments in DC and Arlington National Cemetery. Assuming DNC doesn't already own them.
posted by bryon at 10:55 PM on January 17, 2016


Yosemite National Park was established in 1890. The Ahwahnee was opened in 1927. Curry Village was established in 1924. And the guys who have sold hot dogs there for the last 20 or so years are trying to claim trademark?

Well ... they bought the trademark, why shouldn't they be able to do what they want with it? According to Wikipedia the hotel was named by the original owners, who wanted to profit from commemorate the area's Native inhabitants. So "The Ahwahnee Hotel" has never been an NPS trademark; it was something created and developed by the people running the hotel. It's not as though the NPS even wants to buy the trademarks themselves: they're just miffed that DNC wants to be able to sell them to the highest bidder.

We wouldn't have this situation if the NPS hadn't been doing a cute little dance about public and private property for the last hundred years: the NPS would have owned the trademark if they had built the hotel themselves; the hotel's original owners (the Yosemite Park & Curry Co.) would still own the trademark if they hadn't been forced out by the NPS. But the NPS wanted to have the best of both worlds - ultimate control without any financial risk. Well, it turns out that they weren't quite as clever they thought. They can force out the concessionaires, but they can't force them to relinquish their trademarks. So in a fit of vindictiveness, the NPS is going to waste a fortune by renaming everything in sight.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:26 PM on January 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Capitalism at its vile worst.
posted by theora55 at 6:22 AM on January 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


those jack-booted thugs at the nps amirite, joe in australia? classic government overreach
posted by entropicamericana at 8:07 AM on January 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


That Outside article seems pretty misleading, if some of the major trademarks were the ones that the concessionaire was forced to purchased.

Outside article:
In all, DNC has registered about a dozen Yosemite-related trademarks, including logos and stylized drawings of Half Dome that many park visitors would immediately recognize. When it took over in 1993, DNC had to buy a few other trademarks, including for the phrase “Go Climb a Rock,” seen on many classic Yosemite Mountaineering School T-shirts and bumper stickers.
posted by smackfu at 8:42 AM on January 18, 2016


What is this thing where a contractor is legally allowed to register trademarks for their employer's property? Are these contracts anywhere?
posted by rhizome at 9:38 AM on January 19, 2016


Note for people saying they were forced to buy them and have some right to them: according to a commentator on Kevin Drum's site who has looked up the applications, most of them were filed in 2002; only a couple date back to 1988 and thus could have been 'forced' on DNC. You can stop naively taking the company's side.
posted by tavella at 9:52 AM on January 19, 2016


I don't understand what that means, can you post a link to the thread/comment?
posted by rhizome at 9:53 AM on January 19, 2016


They got the contract in 1993; they filed most of the trademarks in 2002 a decade later. They weren't 'forced to buy them' if they didn't exist. It was purely an attempt to privatize a public resource. Notes here and here.
posted by tavella at 10:15 AM on January 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


And it looks like all of the trademarks that DNC bought were for the actual properties they were buying ("The Ahwanee") or established merchandising slogans ("Go Climb A Rock"), not the passel of public spaces they trademarked after they won the contract ("Yosemite National Park").
posted by Etrigan at 11:54 AM on January 19, 2016


It's that the PTO is broken to the extent that they didn't even let NPS (which is another division of their employer, the federal government) know that this shit was going on, or simply refuse to grant the trademarks.

I feel like this is becoming my hobbyhorse, but the analogue is nothing like "another division of their employer" - the PTO is an office of the Department of Commerce and the NPS is part of the Department of the Interior, which behave a lot more like independent corporations within a conglomerate; there is very little likelihood there's any sort of direct communication between them.
posted by psoas at 12:55 PM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's no particular reason why the NPS suddenly needs to sell products like coffee mugs and golf shirts with the words "Yosemite National Park" on them. Because that's what the fight is partially about: DNC was making and selling those products but the NPS wasn't making any money out of it. I presume they'll still be made, but DNC will collect a royalty from the manufacturer.

The truth of the matter is that the NPS doesn't want to make mugs and shirts, no more than it actually wants to run a hotel. The reason for the fight is that the NPS can charge concessionaires more if they don't need to pay a licensing fee to DNC. If the NPS goes and changes all the local names then the value of DNC's trademarks will be lowered, and the NPS will be able to offer the use of the new trademarks as part of the deal with the future concessionaire. Other concessionaires will have been warned about the risks of independence; the NPS will make more money; and nobody gets hurt except DNC and people who own maps or guidebooks.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:25 PM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


The reason for the fight is that the NPS can charge concessionaires more if they don't need to pay a licensing fee to DNC.

What? They charge what the concessionaires bid, no? If the National Parks were so desperate for some of those sweet, sweet t-shirt royalties, they could probably more than make up for it by raising their admission fees by half a penny instead.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:46 PM on January 19, 2016


The bids for the concession are based on the expected profit the concessionaire can make. If the NPS can offer the concession plus a royalty-free right to produce branded merchandise the concessionaires will be able to make more money (because the items will cost less to produce, and nobody will be able to compete) than if DNC could demand a royalty for each branded item sold.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:51 PM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


How much do you think Yosemite makes on souvenirs? Again, they could just raise rates (very, very slightly) if they wanted more money.

Meanwhile, yes, private enterprise trademarking public property is effed up.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:05 PM on January 19, 2016


Joe in Australia, I don't know if a park ranger traumatized you as a child or something, but you seem bizarrely determined to make this some evil action by the NPS. DNC would be hurt? Why on earth should a former concessionaire make money from "Yellowstone National Park" souvenirs? They didn't create the park, they didn't name it, they didn't run it, they don't own it. They ran some lodging and food operations in the place for a few years, for which they were duly paid.
posted by tavella at 8:28 PM on January 19, 2016


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