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M-22: Who owns the rights to road signs in Michigan?

Broneah Inc.'s trademark on the M-22 highway route marker.

Several weeks ago I posted on the debate taking place over the trademark owned by brothers Matt and Keegan Myers.

They've captured the love people have for northwest Michigan and Leelanau County with their M-22 business.

M-22 has been a success, but they've also been working to keep others from selling stuff emblazoned with a Michigan state road sign symbol.

The brothers own a trademark that they say covers all state road signs in Michigan, not just M-22.

Leelanau County native and public radio reporter Adam Allington recently traveled back home and filed a story on the fight over the trademark for Marketplace.

You can listen to Adam's story here:


The brothers explained to Allington why they're vigorously protecting their trademark:

“In business you can’t move forward if you can’t protect what you’ve created,” says Keegan. "Nike does it." His older brother Matt was more direct: “What happens is people come in here, they come in and look at the exact products we’re buying, exactly how we’ve embellished them, and they go and copy it." To protect their brand, M-22 started sending cease-and-desist letters to companies with similar highway products, even those using featuring different roads such as M-119 about two hours north.

M-119runs along another beautiful section of Michigan in the northwest Lower Peninsula.

Ami Woods and her mom have been on the receiving end of the Myers brothers' cease-and-desist letters.

With her mother, Ami Woods runs the Good Hart General Store in Good Hart, Michigan. Woods said they’ve sold souvenirs promoting M-119 for several decades, which is their right since M-119 runs right by their front door. “All that we have is tourism as an industry,” Woods said. “So, the possibility of a private business claiming a trademark that jeopardizes our right to promote tourism in our area is something that we felt very strongly that we needed to go against.”

With the cease-and-desist letters continuing, Woods said she and her mother wanted the matter cleared up. They put together materials on the dispute and asked their state representative to help.

State Rep. Frank Foster (R-Petoskey) presented Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette with the materials  and asked him for his opinion on the matter.

He offered that opinion last May:

It is my opinion, therefore, that no entity can lawfully claim exclusive control over use of the State’s highway route marker design because the design is in the public domain and is otherwise not subject to protection under trademark law.

But according the Wall Street Journal, the Myers brothers say trademark law is a federal matter, not a state one, so the cease-and-desist letters continue to out.

Mark Brush was the station's Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.
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