Clyde: A splendid little protest
July 15, 2016
I went to the protest at City Hall on Wednesday. It was organized to protest Vail Resorts' effort to trademark the name "Park City." There was a meeting with city officials and Vail CEO Rob Katz to see if there is some compromise position that works for everybody, or if Vail would withdraw the application. I stayed long enough to get the sense that the meeting was a real discussion. They were there too long to have said only, "Screw you and the horse you rode in on."
I don't know if that is good or bad. My limited understanding of trademark law is that geographic names, in their generic, unmodified form, are not usually something that can be trademarked. It would need "Resort" or "Plumbing" attached to it. I'm kind of banking on the patent office to reject it. I'd prefer Vail withdraw it, but I understand their position, too.
Their goal is to protect their brand from others trying to trade off their reputation and investment. That is exactly the same thing the 200 or so people in the Marsac parking lot were trying to do — protect the brand that is Park City in the larger sense. We have a brand that is a unique community, filled with non-profits for every conceivable cause. It's a brand that includes Deer Valley, and trails, the school system, Sundance and more concerts and films than you can attend. There is a rich history and culture behind the brand. We're uncomfortable with some huge corporation based in another state trading off our brand to peddle $25 hamburgers to a half million Epic pass holders. Though we are quite happy to have Vail's customers rent our condos and shop in our stores.
The protest was an interesting affair. There were about 200 people there, and no hors d’oeuvres. At a time when there are lots of good reasons to be rioting in the streets, this seemed like the most arcane cause. There are places where driving with a burned out taillight can get you shot. I suspect that our trademark dispute would seem sort of trivial to them. One sign at the Park City protest said, "Ski Bum Lives Matter." It was a great way of putting it all in perspective. We suffer from some very First World problems.
The dogs were all on leashes, and the signs were painted on recycled materials. It was a great time to catch up with people I haven't seen in a while. Unlike any other Park City event, there was adequate parking. The police set up a row of barricades to create a path so that people trying to do business at the City offices could get in and out. Nobody rushed the barricades, but they gave it a sense of authenticity. No mountain bikes were burned. I've been to more raucous funerals.
Which is not to say that feelings don't run deep. It was a crowd of people who were mostly independent in the sense that they aren't service providers, vendors or employees of Vail. Nobody wants to jeopardize that relationship. The non-profit managers were mostly conspicuously absent. No reason to put grants at risk. It felt like anybody with a direct economic stake stayed away. So in that sense, the damage is already done. It's a company town; don't rock the boat. Fortunately, there are people who aren't at risk who can do the rocking.
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I tried to remember the last time I saw something quite like this in Park City. Outside of a few planning commission applications, where neighbors whose houses were so new the paint wasn't dry were objecting to somebody else building next door and destroying the community, there aren't many.
Back in about 1983 there was a proposal to impose a nickel-a-glass tax on beer. The City Council met at the Memorial Building on Main Street. Somebody stuck a sign on the door of the Alamo that said, "For a Cheap Beer, go to Council Meeting." So a hundred people picked up a few roadies and walked next door. This was back in the old mini-bottle days, and the Council was actually pelted with mini-bottles (empty of course). It took all of about 30 seconds to kill the beer tax. Prior to that, it was the 4th of July Riot back in the 1960s, a general brawl between the miners and the hippie-skiers. A minor riot every 35 years or so is probably a good thing in the long run.
I didn't stay to the end of the event on Wednesday. It was hot and there was hay to bale. Apparently no agreement was reached, but the conversation continues.
Many thanks to whoever painted the "TM" on the "PC" hill.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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