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San Francisco sues Oakland, says airport renaming infringes on SFO trademark

San Francisco sues Oakland over airport name change
San Francisco sues Oakland over airport name change 02:22

OAKLAND – One week after Oakland International Airport approved adding "San Francisco Bay" to its name, San Francisco officials have sued, claiming the new name infringes on the trademark of San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

On Thursday, City Attorney David Chiu filed suit in federal court, seeking damages and forcing Oakland to stop using the new name.

"Oakland Airport's actions ignore SFO's longstanding protected mark, brand, and identity, violate federal and state intellectual property law, and disregard the legal infringement and consumer confusion its actions create. Oakland Airport's hasty and unnecessary efforts and refusal to engage in discussions of alternative names have left the City and County of San Francisco (the "City") no choice but to bring this complaint," the lawsuit read in part.

Chiu claims that SFO has used the "San Francisco Airport" or "San Francisco International Airport" through much of its nearly 100-year history and that Oakland has not engaged with San Francisco officials on alternate names to avoid a lawsuit.

"Oakland 's name is going to cause immense confusion and chaos for travelers all over the world, particularly visitors for whom English is not their first language," Chiu said in an interview with CBS News Bay Area.

"They have made a decision that is intentionally diverting travelers that would otherwise be going to SFO, to their airport. After SFO has invested billions of dollars over decades in its reputation, its branding and its services," the city attorney went on to say.

On April 11, the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners approved changing the airport's official name from "Metropolitan Oakland International Airport" to "San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport." The OAK airport code and visual branding did not change.

"After nearly a century of service, the San Francisco International Airport is an established brand that is instantly recognizable to travelers around the world," said SFO Airport Director Ivar Satero. "The proposed renaming of Oakland International Airport will have a detrimental impact on the passenger experience, creating confusion and frustration for travelers, especially those from foreign markets."

At least one airline, Azores Airlines, has used the new name for reservations, which Chiu said is proof that the renaming is already negatively impacting SFO in the week since the decision.

"The illegal use of the confusingly similar name in commerce indicates SFO has already suffered economic harm as a result of Oakland's action, and OAK stands to receive substantial profits based on the strength of SFO's reputation and services," the city attorney's office said in a statement.

On Mar. 29, the Port of Oakland announced plans to rename the airport, claiming a lack of "geographic awareness" of the airport's East Bay location among visitors. OAK officials also said they hoped the renaming would help increase business at the airport, which has been losing routes over the last 15 years.

Officials in Oakland said the move is being supported by airlines, East Bay tourism officials and local leaders, including Mayor Sheng Thao.

In a statement to CBS News Bay Area, officials with the Port of Oakland said the renaming does not infringe on the trademark of SFO. 

"We will vigorously defend our right to claim our spot on the San Francisco Bay. We are standing up for Oakland and our East Bay community," said a port spokesperson.

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