There are some things that simply cannot be trademarked.
His opinion in 2012, and recently compounded with a lawsuit to deny the Myers brothers their trademark is clear. The M22 signs you see on apparel, coffee mugs, stickers on cars and used to profit a Northern Michigan business cannot be claimed for their exclusive use:
“.. In documents filed with the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, the state argues that highway signs can’t be registered and that trademarking signs violates the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which sets the federal standards for signs, signals and pavement markings. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette wrote in a 2012 opinion 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.” ..”
In other words, we all bought and paid for this design.
Its one thing to to use public domain imagery to enhance your brand. Even taking that image to brand your product is perfectly fine. But then to claim ownership of the publicly owned image because of its recognizable status with your product?
Perhaps the first questions should be asked about the origin of the logo. Why, and how did it come about? The use of the M-22 Sign as a trademarked logo for the marketing purposes of any product was done for what reason? The answer itself likely invalidates the claims made by the M22 company about protecting their branding.
They used the image because people associate it with a beautiful region, with scenery, and emotionally appealing attractions.
The original presentation of the sign on T-Shirts was innovative to be sure. But the threat to others who might also wish to use state road sign design for their own benefit is problematic if the legal ownership of the M22 image is in a trademarked and protected status.
The brothers’ attorney says it doesn’t stop the state or anyone from using the design. From MLive:
The state says the defendants have threatened to sue others who tried to use state signs of other highways. Di Giacomo said his clients’ trademarks do not stop the state, or anyone else, from using “M22.”
So why trademark it? (emphasis in bold)
The Myers brothers have done well with their business and through the design. They have been able to capitalize on an easily recognizable landmark, and broadcast it through good merchandising. It is certainly iconic already, but built upon the foundation of the region, and not a sign alone.
Marginal ‘infringement’ by those who wish to also utilize their taxes-paid for resources should breath easier if the state of Michigan prevails in the latest challenge to this ongoing version of road-sign adverse possession. This would be good.
Next up? I was thinking of starting a big-and-tall clothing line. Maybe use for extra wide shoes even?
Oh, and maybe some iconic stop signs for each cheek of my new bikini line.
Do I need to put a photo up?