Oakland airport name change moves forward amid legal challenge from San Francisco

Oakland has also filed a counterclaim against San Francisco's trademark lawsuit.

May 10, 2024, 1:58 PM

Officials in Oakland, California, approved modifying the name of the city's airport to include "San Francisco," despite a federal trademark lawsuit from the city of San Francisco, while also filing their own lawsuit against the neighboring city over the name-change dispute.

The Oakland Board of Port Commissioners unanimously voted Thursday to rename Metropolitan Oakland International Airport to San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport. The name change has since gone into effect on the airport's website and social media accounts. The airport's three-letter code -- OAK -- and visual brand will remain the same.

PHOTO: Travelers walk towards Terminal 1 at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, CA, April 12, 2024.
Travelers walk towards Terminal 1 at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, CA, April 12, 2024.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The board said the new name is part of the port's efforts to "strengthen and grow the airport."

"Our Board came to these discussions with a shared love of Oakland and a desire to see our city and airport thrive," Port Commission President Barbara Leslie said in a statement following Thursday's vote. "We are moving forward with a commitment to honoring our past while building a stronger, more inclusive future."

After announcing the proposed name change in late March, the board voted unanimously to modify the airport's name in a first reading vote on April 11. Leslie said the port then met with "dozens of community leaders and stakeholders" to hear their concerns over the change.

The city of San Francisco filed a federal trademark lawsuit over the plan on April 18, arguing that the proposed name would cause confusion for travelers and infringe on San Francisco International Airport's (SFO) trademark. The city attorney's office said it filed its lawsuit following "multiple attempts" to work with the Port of Oakland on alternative names.

Two days before Thursday's vote, which allowed the Port of Oakland to move forward with the renaming, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu "strongly" urged the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners to reconsider their plans.

In a letter to the board, he called on the commissioners to "instead engage in discussions with the City and others about a different name that would achieve the Port's objectives without infringing on the City's trademark and engendering consumer confusion and harm."

San Francisco's lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to immediately stop the use of the 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.

PHOTO: A man checks flight information signs at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in San Francisco, CA, Feb. 4, 2024.
A man checks flight information signs at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in San Francisco, CA, Feb. 4, 2024.
Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty Images

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 city's lawsuit.

In a countersuit filed on Thursday, Port of Oakland asked the court to rule that SFO's trademark does not extend to the use of "San Francisco Bay" and argued that other places have several airports whose names begin with the same geographic identifier, such as London, Paris, Beijing, Chicago and Dallas.

"The San Francisco's City Attorney's decision to pursue litigation is an attempt to stop consumer education, prevent expanded air travel options for Bay Area residents and visitors, and is a misguided use of San Francisco taxpayer dollars," Port Attorney Mary Richardson said in a statement. "OAK is committed to enhancing its airline routes and increasing competition for the benefit of all of San Francisco Bay Area's visitors and residents, including those residing in the City and County of San Francisco. We stand ready and willing to partner with SFO to increase choices for travelers and invite any productive dialogue to this end."

The Port of Oakland's lawsuit is not seeking any financial compensation or damages.

In a statement to ABC News, Jen Kwart, a spokesperson for the San Francisco City Attorney's Office, said it is "disappointing that Oakland chose this path and has ignored our multiple offers to collaborate on alternative names and avoid litigation."

"We have strong federal trademark infringement claims against Oakland, and they have given us no choice but to move forward with next steps in our lawsuit," the statement continued.

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

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