City Attorney David Chiu

San Francisco sues Oakland over airport renaming that infringes on SFO’s trademark

Attempts to collaborate with Oakland and avoid litigation have gone ignored forcing San Francisco to take legal action to protect SFO’s trademark and prevent widespread traveler confusion

SAN FRANCISCO (April 18, 2024) — City Attorney David Chiu filed a federal trademark infringement lawsuit today against the City of Oakland over approved plans to rename Oakland International Airport (OAK) that infringe on San Francisco International Airport’s (SFO) trademark. On April 11, the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners approved on first read a plan to rename Oakland International Airport to “San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport,” and at least one airline has begun using the new name.

City Attorney David Chiu
City Attorney David Chiu

San Francisco and regional leaders have pointed out that this new name will very likely lead to widespread passenger confusion and avoidable travel mishaps. Oakland has refused to engage with San Francisco on multiple offers to collaborate on alternative names, leaving San Francisco with no choice but to take legal action to prevent the misuse of its 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,” said City Attorney Chiu. “This new name will cause confusion and chaos for travelers, which will damage the travel industry for the entire region. We are already seeing at least one airline use the new 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.”

“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 C. 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. 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.”

SFO began operating in 1927, and has used the name “San Francisco Airport” or “San Francisco International Airport” throughout most of its history. The City 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. The registration has achieved incontestable status under federal law giving the City the exclusive use of the “San Francisco International Airport” trademark.

Renaming Oakland International Airport to “San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport” will very likely cause widespread confusion, mishaps, and economic loss for travelers, to the detriment of both airports and the Bay Area overall. 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, which it does not. The renaming would be particularly challenging for international travelers who may not speak or read English—an important segment of SFO’s customer base.

The clear similarity and the resulting very high likelihood of confusion between the City’s registered trademark “San Francisco International Airport” and Oakland International Airport’s proposed name “San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport” gives San Francisco strong federal trademark infringement and related common law and state claims against Oakland.

San Francisco was given just 30 minutes advance notice of the renaming plan before the Port of Oakland announced the proposed new name to the public on March 29. Multiple attempts to engage with Oakland on alternative names and avoid litigation have gone unanswered.

Since the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners voted to approve the new name on April 11, at least one airline, Azores Airlines, has begun using the new name on their flight reservation system. 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.

San Francisco’s lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to immediately stop usage of the infringing new name. The City is also seeking an order declaring Oakland has infringed on SFO’s trademark, an order requiring Oakland to destroy or transfer all physical and digital materials containing the new name, and damages and fees.

The complaint filed today can be found here.