Settlement talks collapse in Yosemite National Park trademark clash

A sign directing Yosemite National Park visitors to Half Dome Village, which was known as Curry Village under the previous concessionaire. The name is one of the disputed trademarks now the subject of a lawsuit.
A sign directing Yosemite National Park visitors to Half Dome Village, which was known as Curry Village under the previous concessionaire. The name is one of the disputed trademarks now the subject of a lawsuit. Merced Sun Star

Efforts to settle the dispute between the federal government and Yosemite National Park’s former concessions company over trademarks have stalled, foreshadowing a potentially costly and time-consuming court battle.

The failure of mediation efforts between Justice Department attorneys and their DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite was laid out in a court filing last week in which the two sides resumed combative trial preparations.

“The parties do not believe that settlement is likely at this time,” attorneys revealed in the filing last Thursday, adding that while they “remain open to the possibility of mediation in this case (they) believe that the case should proceed at this time.”

The 23-page legal filing, known as a “joint status report,” spelled out myriad disagreements still separating the National Park Service from the concessions company, a subsidiary of the Buffalo, N.Y.-based, Delaware North.

On Tuesday, a new park concessions company takes over. The departing company, a subsidiary of New York-based Delaware North, trademarked the names “Ahwahnee,” “Curry Village” and “Yosemite Lodge,” during its tenure and now contends it must be paid

Delaware North, Yosemite’s primary concessionaire from 1993 until a new firm took over the lucrative contract on March 1, is suing the federal government over the handling of the Yosemite-affiliated names for which the concession company obtained trademarks.

The substantive differences include the validity, dollar value and future of the trademarks Delaware North secured for such locations as Wawona, Curry Village and the famed Ahwahnee hotel. The company’s still-secret appraisal pegs the value of the trademarks at $44 million, while the park service values the names at only $1.6 million.

DNCY, through this litigation, is attempting to monetize a property right – an unending trademark in the names of United States-owned property – it never possessed.

U.S. Justice Department.

The legal differences range from how a trial might proceed to who might participate. And unless mediation occurs or a judge summarily resolves the case, the core Yosemite trademark dispute now won’t be settled until a U.S. Court of Federal Claims trial occurs in mid-to-late 2017, at the earliest.

“In the absence of the disposition of this case through pretrial motions for summary judgment, the parties anticipate proceeding to trial,” the two sides stated, adding that “an expedited trial is not necessary.”

The resumption of trial preparations marks a breakdown in talks that for a time seemed promising.

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In July, about 10 months after the Delaware North firm filed its lawsuit, the two sides advised Chief Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith that they were working on a framework for finding a settlement. Citing “the potential for resolving this matter through mediation,” the attorneys secured a deadline extension for filing a required status report.

In an Aug. 4 court filing, the Justice Department and company attorneys further stated they “have made substantial progress toward an agreement on a mediation plan.” In the same filing, the attorneys cited “ unexpected delays” in asking Campbell-Smith for a new Aug. 18 deadline.

The two sides met the Aug. 18 deadline with their new joint status report. Although they did not explain exactly what caused them to step back from mediation and resume trial preparation, they noted some key differences.

“Disagreement over the value of the property at issue – trademarks and capital improvements – is the driving factor that has resulted in this lawsuit and that has prevented an amicable resolution,” Delaware North’s attorneys stated in the joint status report.

The government also wants to allow the current Yosemite concessionaire, a subsidiary of Philadelphia-based Aramark, to join the lawsuit as a third party. Delaware North opposes this move. Ultimately, the Justice Department argues, it could be the Aramark firm that’s liable for paying for any trademarks.

“The United States understands that Aramark may dispute these contentions,” Justice Department attorneys added.

Michael Doyle: 202-383-6153, @MichaelDoyle10