National Park Concessionaires seek to Shake Things Up (with apologies to Taylor Swift)

I think there may have been a recent bout of collective insanity washing across the States. What else could explain Taylor Swift, Delaware North and Xanterra filing trademark for common terms?

Delaware North has operated the concessions in Yosemite for the last 20 years or so. They are seeking trademark protections for the iconic Ahwahnee lodge and Camp Curry Village.  When the concession goes out to bid, they want the next concessionaire to pay them handsomely for the names that predate their operation by decades. Perhaps Delaware North should pay any remaining descendants of the tribes who lived in the area for their use of the name for the past 20 years — it is derived from their name for the valley, “Owwoni” or “large mouth — after all.

Not to be outdone, Xanterra who operates El Tovar at the Grand Canyon is now in one the act too. They are seeking trademark protection for El Tovar, Bright Angel and Phantom Ranch. There claim is at least based upon their operating the lodges for most of the past century.  Presumably, their claims are being filed largely because today’s lawyers see gaps in contracts written decades ago.

And to top it off, Taylor Swift is seeking to trademark such common terms as “1989” and “I Am an American Citizen.”  Will I have to put a penny in a jar every time I tell someone, no despite my British accent, “I Am an American Citizen?”

While the Taylor Swift push is a side-show, the push by the concessionaires to claim these trademarks disturbs me.  They are being allowed to operate with public parks as they offer a valuable service to the visiting public. It would be a loss to the public if these storied names went away because of a legal spat designed to increase their chances of retaining a lucrative concession.  Rather than take a short-term view, driven by clever attorneys, why not take a long-term view more in-keeping with the park ethic. Even if they lose the concession for a period, they will be better off in the long-term if these names and brands are maintained and strengthened. To me it’s clear that  regardless of what the lawyers may say, these names belong to the public as much as the parks they are allowed to operate in do.

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