Trademarking history: Glynn, Jacobs become owners of American heritage

In News, Niagara Falls

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On June 30, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill creating the nation’s first federal park at Yosemite, in northern California.

Now Delaware North owner Jeremy Jacobs Sr., who ran concessions in the park from 1993 to 2016, says a trademark he filed makes him the owner of the words “Yosemite National Park.”

The first boat christened The Maid of the Mist was launched in the waters below Niagara Falls in 1846.

 In 1993, Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co. owner Jimmy Glynn, who has run a tour boat concession at Niagara Falls since 1971, filed a trademark on the words “Maid of the Mist.”

Both Jacobs and Glynn remain as concessionaires at Niagara Falls State Park, with Jacobs handling the retail and dining venues, including the Top of the Falls restaurant, and Glynn running his tour boat business.

Two questions arise.

The first: How can a name that has been in common usage for a century or more suddenly become one person’s property?   

And the second: Who holds the trademark on the words “Niagara Falls State Park”?

The two businessmen never talked much about their trademark filings until they lost their lucrative concessions – Glynn’s Ontario business to Hornblower Cruises in 2012 and Jacobs’ Yosemite monopoly to longtime rival Aramark last year.

Now Jacobs is suing the federal government for $54 million, which his attorneys claim is the value of the “intellectual property” he owns at Yosemite.

That property includes place names that were used by Native Americans long before the arrival of the white man, the lawsuit claims.

The park service announced it will change the names of some of the most beloved attractions in the park, at least temporarily, despite the fact that the government – on behalf of the people of the United States – owns all of the properties in question.

Even Curry Village, a collection of cabins near the center of the park that has carried the same name since the 1800s, will become Half Dome Village.

Also affected will be Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, which will become Yosemite Valley Lodge, the Wawona Hotel, becoming Big Trees Lodge and Badger Pass Ski Area, becoming Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.

Public reaction on the part of Californians has been brutal.

“While I applaud the National Park Service’s vigorous legal challenge to Delaware North, it hasn’t gone far enough,” wrote Jon Merritt in a letter to the Los Angeles Times Saturday. “For starters, instead of changing the name of the legendary Ahwahnee Hotel to the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, how about naming it the Boycott Delaware North Hotel?”

Merritt’s letter was but one of hundreds received since the story broke late last week, Times editors reported.

According to the US Trademark and Patent Office, Delaware North holds more than 30 trademarks related to various parks and venues, including the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the US Astronaut Hall of Fame. The company also applied for the trademark to the sole word “Yosemite” on Sept. 30, 2015.

It could not be determined at presstime whether “Niagara Falls” or “Niagara Falls State Park” were among the trademarks.

One more question. Can the words “United States of America” be trademarked and thus privately owned?

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