Staking a Claim by the Side of the Road
By: John M. Nading
The Wall Street Journal featured an interesting article on a company which has been asserting trademark rights in the design of Michigan State highway signs.
According to the article, Matt and Keegan Myers, also known as the “Broneah Brothers,” local kite-boarding legends, started selling clothing with the design of the local Michigan State highway sign. The M22 is a scenic State highway that traverses parts of Michigan’s northern border on Lake Michigan. The brothers sought to capitalize on the memories and experiences that come to mind when local residents or frequent travelers see the M22 sign, and channel them it into a lifestyle brand, which has expanded to include various souvenirs, coffee, and even wine. The brothers have now opened two stores, one in Traverse City and the other in Glen Arbor, which are towns located on or near the M22.
Apparently, the brothers invested heavily to stake their claim in the M22 design, pursuing enforcement actions against users of other Michigan State highway signs. One such target was the Good Hart General Store in Good Hart, Michigan, which had sought to use M119, the local highway where it is located, on various goods. The Good Hart General Store responded by petitioning the Michigan Attorney General to intervene. This past Spring, the Michigan AG ruled that all State highway signs, including M22, are in the public domain.
Where the brothers have already secured federal trademark registrations for "M22," what effect will the Michigan AG’s decision have on their purported trademark rights? Should individuals or companies be allowed to claim trademark rights in road signs or designations where they serve a different purpose?
For the full story, please check out the article Highway M-22 Logo Revisited, by Matthew Dolan, which appeared in the print edition on September 5, 2012 at A8.