California recently enacted a bill prohibiting concessionaires from claiming trademark rights in a mark that “incorporates or implies an association with a state park venue, or its historical, cultural, or recreational resources.” The full text of the California Heritage Protection Act, AB 2249, can be found at https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB2249. The bill, which goes into effect January 1, 2017, is in response to a dispute that erupted between Delaware North Company Yosemite, which previously ran Yosemite National Park’s concession services, and the National Park Service over ownership of the names of several historical venues in Yosemite National Park, and is intended to protect the names of California’s 280 parks and the venues within these parks. The Yosemite dispute has resulted in the National Park Service agreeing to change the names of several of its venue in Yosemite (The Ahwahnee Hotel will become the Majestic Hotel; Curry Village will become Half Dome Village, and Yosemite Lodge at the Falls will be Yosemite Lodge). The name change of these venues has led to a significant public outcry and a broader debate over whether any commercial entity should be able to claim trademark rights in venues of such historic and cultural value.
The opening declarations of California’s bill addresses the public policy interest and sets the tone of the bill: “A legal claim by an individual to have a trademark right to a name or names associated with a venue within a state park derogates the interests of California and the shared history of Californians, and it is indicative of a lack of the individual’s fitness to serve as a steward of the state’s cherished cultural heritage and places.”
The bi-partisan legislation modifies the definition of “best bidder” for concession contracts to include that the bidder operates “the concession in a manner that protects the state’s trademark and service mark interest in the names associated with a state park venue, and its historical, cultural, and recreational resources.” It also disqualifies concessionaires that attempt to “make a legal claim or assertion to have a trademark or service mark interest a state park venue, or its historical, cultural, or recreational resources” from bidding on future contracts in California.
It will be interesting to see if other states follow California’s lead and enact similar legislation to protect park and venue names.