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San Francisco sues Oakland over proposed airport name change

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(SAN FRANCISCO) — The city of San Francisco is suing the nearby city of Oakland over the latter’s plan to modify its airport name to include “San Francisco,” arguing that the proposed name infringes on its trademark and would “cause confusion and chaos.”

San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu filed a federal trademark infringement lawsuit on Thursday, a week after the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners preliminarily approved a plan to rename Metropolitan Oakland International Airport to San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport.

The lawsuit alleges that the proposed name would infringe on San Francisco International Airport’s (SFO) trademark.

“We had hoped Oakland would come to its senses, but their refusal to collaborate on an acceptable alternative name leaves us no choice but to file a lawsuit to protect SFO’s trademark,” Chiu said in a statement. “This new name will cause confusion and chaos for travelers, which will damage the travel industry for the entire region.”

Chiu said that at least one airline has already started using the modified Oakland airport name, “indicating that SFO has already suffered economic harm.”

“We want to see the entire Bay Area thrive as a tourist destination and expand our offerings to visitors, but the renaming is not a legal or practical way to go about it,” he said.

In a statement to ABC News, the Port of Oakland denied that the proposed renaming infringes on SFO’s trademark.

“We will vigorously defend our right to claim our spot on the San Francisco Bay,” the Port of Oakland said. “We are standing up for Oakland and our East Bay community.”

The Port of Oakland announced in a press release on March 29 that it was considering changing the airport’s name from Metropolitan Oakland International Airport to San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport. The city of San Francisco claimed in its lawsuit that the city of Oakland notified the SFO airport director of the proposed name change only 30 minutes prior to issuing the release.

The Oakland Board of Port Commissioners voted unanimously to modify the airport’s name on April 11 in a first reading vote. A second reading is scheduled for May 9, at which point the Port Commission would give its final approval and staff would then move forward with the formal renaming, according to the Port of Oakland.

“This will boost inbound travelers’ geographic awareness of the airport by highlighting the airport’s location on the San Francisco Bay,” Port Commission President Barbara Leslie said in a statement following the April 11 vote. “This name will make it clear that OAK is the closest major airport, for 4.1 million people, three national laboratories, the top public university in the country, and California’s Wine Country.”

The airport code OAK and visual brand would not change, the Port of Oakland said.

The city of San Francisco said it has raised concerns to the city of Oakland that the proposed name will likely lead to confusion among consumers but that Oakland has “refused to engage with the City for the three weeks since it announced its renaming plan,” the lawsuit stated.

“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,” SFO airport director Ivar Satero said in a statement. “For these reasons, we support this legal challenge and urge the Port of Oakland to find a solution that puts all Bay Area airport customers first.”

San Francisco has owned the U.S. federal trademark registration for the mark “San Francisco International Airport” with the first date of use in commerce in 1954, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to immediately stop the use of the proposed name and orders declaring that Oakland has infringed on SFO’s mark and requiring the city to destroy any materials containing the new name. The lawsuit is also seeking unspecified damages and fees.

There were 11.2 million passengers who came through Oakland International Airport in 2023, while San Francisco International Airport saw 50 million passengers last year.

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