San Francisco files trademark lawsuit over Oakland airport name change

On Behalf of | Apr 22, 2024 | Firm News, Trademark Law |

On April 18, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu followed through with his previously stated intention to sue Oakland because officials plan to rename its airport.

Chiu filed the legal complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. The city claims Oakland would infringe upon its trademark by renaming the Metropolitan Oakland International Airport to “San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport.” San Francisco argues in its complaint that it has the exclusive rights to the name of its airport and that Oakland’s proposed new name using “San Francisco” and “International Airport” together “will almost certainly cause confusion among consumers and the public generally.” The city has been home to the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) since 1927.

Dispute over trademark rights Intensifies

Chiu is seeking a court order to stop Oakland and its associates, which includes airlines and travel companies, from using the new name. The heart of the matter is that San Francisco is worried about losing travelers and business to Oakland’s airport, which is 12 miles east of the city and 30 miles from San Francisco International Airport. Chiu believes that Oakland’s move is unfair competition and infringes trademarks that San Francisco has held for a long time.

Oakland’s Board of Port Commissioners appeared to be moving forward with the name change, giving unanimous preliminary approval on April 11. However, this was not the final say on the matter. The definitive decision was delayed until May to allow further discussion with interested parties. Nevertheless, Chiu contends that Oakland needs to make more efforts to coordinate with San Francisco’s airport.

Airport Confusion

No case for trademark infringement can succeed without proof of “likelihood of confusion.” The frequent use of the word “confusion” in the 17-page document highlights the lawsuit’s focus. The term and its variations appear over 50 times. San Francisco’s main argument is that travelers, particularly those from other countries, might mistakenly believe they are flying into San Francisco’s airport due to the similar name. Instead, they would land at an airport on the other side of the bay, up to an hour’s drive from their intended destination.

While this firm is not associated with this lawsuit, it handles trademark law disputes for its clients.