San Francisco threatens lawsuit over Oakland airport name change

The city of San Francisco on Monday threatened a lawsuit against Oakland's port commissioners if they change the airport name to "San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport" – 
an attempt to lure more travelers to the East Bay city, which has also garnered criticism because of the inevitable confusion it will cause. 

San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu called Oakland's proposed name change "ill-conceived," and he sent a letter to the Oakland Board of Port Commissioners saying that the plans to use the term San Francisco in the renaming of Oakland's airport infringe on SFO's trademark. The commissioners are set to vote on the renaming proposal on Thursday afternoon. The airport code OAK would remain the same. 

"San Francisco owns two different trademarks," said Jen Kwart, Chiu's spokeswoman. "It owns San Francisco International Airport and it also owns the SFO logo and design. We feel really confident that the new name will infringe on those."

Both Chiu and SFO Airport Director Ivar C. Satero argued that the renaming plan appears intentionally designed to divert travelers who may be unfamiliar with Bay Area geography and lead them to believe OAK has a business relationship with SFO. The proposed renaming would be particularly challenging for international travelers who may not speak or read English, they both argued.

Last week, SFO spokesman Doug Yakel concurred, saying: "We would hate to see a situation where a traveler books thinking that they're going to one location, and then only when they land do they realize that they're somewhere else that they hadn't intended to go to."

SFO began operating in 1927, and has used the name "San Francisco Airport" or "San Francisco International Airport" throughout most of its history, Chiu's office said. 

San Francisco also has owned the U.S. federal trademark registrations for the marks "San Francisco International Airport" since 2012, with the first date of use in 1954, and the assigned airport code "SFO" together with SFO's logo since 2007, with the first day of use in 2000.

To be fair, however, SFO is not even located in San Francisco; it's located in San Mateo County. And a drive from Oakland's airport to downtown San Francisco is a few miles shorter than the drive from where SFO is located off US Highway 101. 

In his letter, Chiu demanded Oakland abandon its proposed plans, and if it refuses to do so, indicated that San Francisco will take legal action to prevent the use of its trademark.

Chiu directed his letter to Barbara Leslie, president of the Oakland Board of Port Commissioners, who has been pushing to change the name of the Oakland Metropolitan International Airport. 

In an email to KTVU, Port of Oakland spokesperson Kaley Skantz responded that the new name "will clarify, not confuse."

That's because, Skantz said, the new name will identify where Oakland's airport is actually located – on the San Francisco Bay. And if the name change does occur, Skantz said, the port will "take all appropriate measures to defend its right to use this accurate geographic identifier."

When she first broached the idea on social media, Leslie said the name change would also protect more than 30,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in economic impact on the region.

In his last line of the letter, Chiu offers Oakland staffers to work with SFO staffers to work "collaboratively" on alternative names that wouldn't confuse people. 

Oakland has been trying to improve its reputation as the city's vibrant culture and beauty have been overshadowed by crime, forcing some local businesses like In-N-Out, near the Oakland Airport, to flee.

In a poll released Monday by the Port of Oakland shortly after Chiu threatened a suit, shows that 27% of respondents in Alameda and Contra Costa counties said they were "very comfortable" with a name change. The survey also showed that 64% of respondents said it is either "extremely important" or "very important" to expand Oakland airport’s flight offerings.

The poll data, conducted by Oakland’s FM3 Research, is the result of 1,400 online interviews with registered voters conducted between May and August. The raw data was not released and the exact questions to those who responded were also not made public.