The power of brand: naming rights in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite

As described in a recent New York Times article, the U.S federal government and the Delaware North company are locked in a contract dispute about who owns the brand names and other marketing aspects of Yosemite National Park.

President Abraham Lincoln first signed legislation to protect the Yosemite region for the enjoyment of all and gave birth to the National Parks movement. Some have called national parks “America’s best idea.” I view it as an inspired evolution of the concept of the commons. Today, nearly 100 countries around the world maintain and protect national parks.

Delaware North has held the concession contract for Yosemite for about twenty years. Along the way, they established legal trademarks for such brand names at “Yosemite National Parks,” “The Ahwanhee Hotel” and “The Wawona Hotel.” Delaware North recently lost the concession contract to rival Aramark. Now, Delaware North is asking for $44 million in compensation for transferring the brand names.

Who said marketing in the public sector isn’t important?

Plenty of people have cursed Delaware North for their actions. I don’t like their actions. But I blame our public servants who subcontracted for services in the park without thinking through the marketing implications.

The National Parks Service should have secured the relevant brand names long ago, and should have ensured that subcontractors did not have the ability or the opportunity to stake such claims. The citizens of the country, through their government, created the products and services that we know as our national parks. The citizens, through their government, should hold the legal rights to those products, including the brand names. If for no other reason, we need the brand names to promote our national parks.

It’s not like the federal government doesn’t create, control and promote other federal brand names.

I’m no contract lawyer or federal bureaucrat, but I fear that we the people may have to pay Delaware North some compensation for the trademarks that they were granted.

I hope that there are now working groups through the government making sure that we own the brand names and marketing rights to the places, events and artifacts that comprise our history.

Maybe the individual states are paying attention to this conflict, as well. No reason that this problem is restricted to just federal government. I hope those other 100 countries with national parks are paying attention, as well.

(Image courtesy of Flickr through Creative Commons License)

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