Greatest Snow on Earth Heats Up in Park City Trademark Controversy

Utah touts itself as having the "greatest snow on Earth," and what's left of that snow got hot this summer as a menagerie of Park City local businesses, individuals (including my inlaws who signed a petition), and the city's municipal corporation ("City Hall") stepped forward to voice disapproval of a trademark registration prosecuted by Park City Mountain Resort ("PCMR"). The locals, lead by City Hall, were ultimately victorious when Vail abandoned its trademark application on July 21, 2016. The story had a David vs. Goliath feel to it because PCMR, a former mining operation-turned-ski resort, was acquired in 2014 by Vail Resorts, which is a conglomerate of posh ski resorts.

As the issue simmered this summer, cease and desist letters were exchanged and accusations were hurled. City Hall complained that Vail essentially said "trust us" when it failed to get written assurances from the ski giant that if the registration were granted, it would not pursue local businesses for trademark infringement if they continued using the name "Park City" for their goods or services. A spokesperson for the City Council said its attorneys were directed "to simply convert what we heard firsthand and publicly from Vail into a binding agreement. No more, no less."

Vail never distilled its assurances into writing. For its part Vail said "our letter to the Council said nothing about walking away from the discussion we are having with the City on the memorandum of understanding on the trademark — a dialogue we have every expectation to continue.”

It should be noted that Vail sought protection for its use of "Park City" in only one class of services, class 41 (educational and entertainment services), specifically for "providing facilities for skiing and snowboarding, and conducting classes and instruction in skiing and snowboarding." Realistically, this would have limited the trademark's reach only to others using the mark in conjunction with the same or related services, and not, for instance, against a Mom & Pop selling coffee.

Vail ultimately relented to the pressure and abandoned its trademark application. Regarding the trademark issue, PMCR COO Bill Rock said in an open letter to the community “this has clearly become a distraction that is pulling our collective focus away from the important work that lies ahead for our city on critical issues, such as affordable housing, parking and transit among others.”

While owning a registered trademark would have yielded Vail certain advantages in the event of litigation against trademark infringement, the company still may be able to rely on common law rights against would-be infringers.

Photo by François Rejeté (CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons), and unfortunately, it is not a photo of skiers in Park City.

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