Hell hath no fury like a former business partner scorned. The Associated Press reports that a company called Delaware North, which ran Yosemite National Park’s hotels and restaurants for two decades under contract with the US National Park Service, wants a $51 million payoff after losing those concessions to a higher bidder.
Why the payoff? Delaware North claims that it owns the names of long-existing park attractions which it did not start, does not own, and only temporarily operated. The Ahwahnee Hotel. Curry Village. Oh, yes, and “Yosemite National Park.”
In response to a suit filed by Delaware North, the Park Service is temporarily changing some names (of the hotel and the “village,” but not of the park) while dickering over how much it’s willing to pay — it values the names, according to court documents, at $3.5 million.
Apparently trademark trolling is Delaware North’s big new revenue center. The company also runs concessions at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and has filed a trademark application on the name “Space Shuttle Atlantis.” No, I’m not kidding. The cost to taxpayers of building and and operating the space shuttle fleet breaks down to around $40 billion per shuttle, but Delaware North thinks it owns the name because it makes money running soda stands and gift shops that riff on the theme.
But this kind of obvious abuse isn’t the real problem. It’s just a high-profile instance of the problem. The problem is the screwed up concept of “intellectual property” itself.
Yes, it’s clearly and obviously wrong to try to patent rounded corners on devices (as Apple did) or collect royalties on century-old characters (Sherlock Holmes) or tunes (“Happy Birthday”) that have long since become organic parts of their surrounding cultures. But the less clear and obvious cases are wrong too.
I’m no artist, but I can draw a “swoosh.” I’m no cobbler, but I could probably make a shoe. If I put that “swoosh” on that shoe, Nike will have me in court so fast my head will spin. And heaven help me if I draw a cartoon featuring a particular mouse outline. Why? Because Nike, Disney and other “intellectual property” monopolists have bribed governments to pretend that shapes can be owned.
Delaware North isn’t rightly entitled to an “intellectual property” payday. Neither are other “intellectual property” scammers. But they’ll probably get over. “Owning” a copyright, patent or trademark? Valuable. Owning that claim’s political enforcers? Priceless.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.