A Story Of A Mountain, A Molehill, And Big Money Stakes…(or David Vs Goliath In The Battle Of The Trademark)
A VICIOUS BATTLE HAS JUST ENDED IN PARK CITY, UTAH
Things in our little resort town have been weird.
Not that things haven't always been weird.
There's a reason Salt Lake City locals long ago dubbed the town "Park Silly."
But there has been nothing silly about the goings on with the gigantic Vail Resorts.
And it stands as a stark reminder to the small business owner.
You do not want to screw around with big corporations or city hall.
BEFORE WE GET TO THE DAVID VS. GOLIATH NATURE OF THIS BATTLE...
....a little backstory.
Vail is a ski-resort megalith of a company.
The faithful reader will recall that we've sung their praises here in the screed.
Among other things, Vail is responsible for changing the face of ski resort marketing in what is a potent lesson for the small-business marketer.
A couple of years ago, Vail descended upon our little town to much fanfare.
First, they began running Canyons Resort, a sprawling ski area here on the Wastach Back.
Next, they made a bid for the town's storied Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR).
AND THE CIRCUMSTANCES WERE ABSURD
Basically, Powdr Corporation (which owned PCMR), forgot to pay their rent.
Most of PCMR's skiable terrain was leased from another company for $155,000 a year with an option to renew at that rate for 20 years.
If that 155K figure sounds like the equivalent of the loose change you or I might find under our sofa cushions, you're right.
That was one hell of a sweetheart deal. The kind you'd like to protect, right?
Well, a whole other batch of silliness ensued.
Among other things, once they realized they'd missed their lease payment, Powdr Corp tried to make good by backdating their check.
When called out, they looked around wide-eyed, feigning surprise, and said, "Who, me?"
It was all very messy and involved lawsuits, but ultimately Vail (now running Canyons) was able to swoop in and take over PCMR.
And then, they combined both resorts.
THEY CREATED THE BIGGEST SKI RESORT IN THE NATION--MWAH-HA-HA-HA!
And certainly, this has entailed a lot of change.
Any time a big corporation gets involved in something, it usually means change.
And as you know, people hate change.
Especially in a dinky little mountain town.
We'll sidestep all that for the moment.
Except for one thing.
Yes, there has been a trademark battle afoot in little Park City, Utah.
Understand, Vail Resorts is huge. They operate more than a dozen ski resorts globally, with more than a billion dollars in annual revenue.
Vail has almost twice as many employees as Park City has residents--and a slew of them are probably lawyers.
Which is where the battle begins.
Vail Resorts was cast as the Goliath in an attempt to trademark the name, "Park City."
Understandably, this resulted in a hue and cry from Park City, the David in this showdown.
The residents of this little Park City--most notably the small-business owners--were haired off.
"HOW CAN YOU TRADEMARK A NAME THAT'S IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN?!"
Every business that had "Park City" in its name was afraid for its very existence.
Letters to the editor were sent in volume.
Petitions were circulated signed--often with muddy paw prints. (This is a town that loves its dogs.)
The former longtime mayor, who fronts a popular local band and is something of a celebrity, stumped against the trademark application.
The USPTO was flooded with dozens of protests against the application.
AND THROUGH IT ALL, VAIL KEPT TRYING TO BE "REASONABLE"
Vail flacks kept saying the company had no intention of preventing local businesses from using the name "Park City."
That this was all about protecting their brand as a ski resort.
Which, of course, was called as BS by everyone in town.
If you own a trademark, you are obliged to protect it.
And that means going after anyone who is infringing upon your trademark.
As in, anyone who uses "Park City" in the name of their business--especially if it's skiing related.
As soon as the USPTO granted that trademark, the cease & desist letters would begin flying like snowflakes in a January blizzard.
FROM PARK CITY POWDER CATS TO PARK CITY PSYCHIC, BUSINESS OWNERS WOULD BE SLAPPED BY VAIL LEFT & RIGHT
It's the nature of the beast.
It doesn't matter what Vail's PR people say they won't do.
They still have to do it.
It's what trademark protection is all about.
There's a lawyer in New Orleans who owns a bowling alley that features live music.
That lawyer also owns the trademark for Rock & Bowl.
There are bowling alleys all over the U.S. that have received cease & desist letters for using the name, "Rock & Bowl."
A lot of people think that this lawyer is a douchebag.
And he may be. But it doesn't change the fact that he owns the trademark. That means he's obligated by the law to protect that trademark and send those C&Ds.
IF YOU DON'T DEFEND YOUR REGISTERED TRADEMARK, IT BECOMES WORTHLESS
Understandably, the protests locally against Vail were vocal and visible.
The icing on the cake was the big hillside outside of town.
There's a gigantic white "PC" carved into the hillside. It's visible for miles.
Some enterprising soul went up to the top of the hillside and applied a "TM" bug to the letters.
It was enormously popular with the local media.
It was all over the newspapers, TV and social media.
There was also a rally outside city hall, with hundreds of protesters carrying signs decrying Vail as a bully.
GUESS WHAT HAPPENED...
After months of fighting this PR battle, can you guess who finally backed down?
Vail Resorts finally threw in the towel.
Over the weekend, they withdrew the trademark application.
It's been big news here in town.
People are very happy.
Here's the one thing a lot of folks don't know.
The trademark application was never filed by Vail in the first place.
Nope. It was filed by longtime local business Powdr Corp.
It's reported that Vail inherited it as part of PCMR's assets.
That's not to say that Vail wouldn't have made such a filing anyway. They've done as much elsewhere.
There are stories about how Vail filed to trademark "Breckenridge," and nobody caught on. Then, the second the trademark was approved, every business in town violating the trademark received a C&D.
But that's not the real lesson for the small business owner.
The real lesson is that you can't take trademarks lightly.
Trademarks are highly valuable, and they can cost you dearly.
But they can also certainly be handled profitably and agreeably with all parties.
WE'VE TOLD SUCH STORIES RIGHT HERE
The Spangler Candy Company is huge.
Yet they and a little Utah startup were able to come to a no-cash agreement over the use of Spangler's trademark for Pop Art Snacks.
There's a multi-billion-dollar international company that is named under an agreement with a dinky little restaurant on a mountain road outside Denver: Hard Rock Café.
Small businesses and big companies can get along with regard to trademarks.
But that doesn't change the fact that trademarks are like any other property.
They are worth big money.
Treat them accordingly.
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.