Trademark Wars: Popular Michigan brand faces state lawsuit over iconic logo

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TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – If you’ve ever driven down M-22, you know it’s scenic, lovely, and everything Michigan is about. Safe to say, it’s easy to see why people – residents or tourists – love it.

It’s the reason brothers Matt and Keegan Myers chose the iconic M-22 sign as the logo for their LLC, bearing the same name as the well-known thoroughfare.  But it’s also the reason the two now find themselves facing a state lawsuit.

Years ago, when the company was in its infancy, the brothers filed for a trademark on the sign and its design. After the filing was granted, the state had a five year contention period to challenge the trademark – but they didn’t.

“The brand had been out there all over the place,” said Matt Myers, “So they had all the time in the world to say something.”

It wasn’t until the year after that five-year period expired that the state began to raise issue with the design. Attorney General Bill Schutte penned an opinion petitioning the validity of the trademark itself.

“We did everything by the books – legal,” said Matt. “There’s no arguing that and I don’t think the state would even argue that. I don’t think they can argue that.”

But this week, that’s exactly what the state did, filing suit against the brothers and their company for violating both state and federal law. Trademark of a state’s road signs make them non-compliant with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Device, so the attorney general’s office says the company’s hold on the design has to go. The Meyers brother aren’t backing down.

“Just because you’re the state of Michigan and you tell us you have all the time, money and power in the world to do this - we worked hard to create it so we can’t just let it go. We did everything legally,” said Matt.

“They look at us like we’re a couple of long-haired, kiteboarding surfer guys that are just going to go away and be scared of their attack on us, but that’s not the case.”

The suit comes in conjunction with the enactment of a state-issued change to the signs themselves. Because of rampant theft of M-22 signs following the success of the brand, legislators elected to remove the ‘M’ and have the signs simple read, ’22.’  The change was put into place the very same day the lawsuit was filed against the Myers’.

“We’re not causing anybody any harm,” said Matt, “I mean if you think about it, we’re being sued by a state that we love.”

M-22, LLC employs roughly 20 full time staffers and nearly 80 seasonal employees between their flagship location in Traverse City and their other location in Glen Arbor. With the filing of the suit, Matt and Keegan are worried for the future of their company, their employees, and their customers.

“We’ve worked really hard to build a business here and we’re really proud of all the people we employ, of all the money we generate for our state, of the full time employees we have working up here, the college kids we can hire,” said Matt. “That’s something we’re not just going to let go of.”

FOX 17 reached out to the Attorney General's office for comment. As of the publishing of this story, they had not gotten back in touch.

For more information on M-22, LLC visit their website or Instagram page.

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    • Mimi DiFrancesca

      The difference is that ANYONE can create a product that has Route 66 on it and sell it. I could make Route 66 Barbeque Sauce and I wouldn’t have to pay some spoiled brats a royalty fee because they used their wealth to tie up a PUBLIC designator with a freaking “trademark”. These kids have tried to grab something that belongs to the AMERICAN PEOPLE and is part of our roadway system- taxpayer paid for- and they pretend they have “worked so hard” to “Create their product”. Really? Looking at a road sign and COPYING IT? That’s like someone trademarking the Statue of Liberty or the Grand Canyon or, as I said, a STOP SIGN. It would be different if they had actually created something and not just pointed at a sign that has stood on a roadway since the 1930s, pissed on it and said, “MINE!” and then took their family money to try and legally lock it down.
      Personally, I have a store at the end of that road and I found out about these clowns when I went to put the M22 on a coffee mug logo and was told it was “trademarked” by a couple of kids in Traverse City. WTF??

      • Gizmologist

        Funny you mention “Route 66.” There is a company in The Netherlands that claims they own the rights to “Route 66” because they purchased the copyrights to the “Route 66” TV series. But other than getting some “Route 66” items taken down on a few Internet commerce sites, they haven’t had much luck getting anyone to acknowledge their blanket rights to anything with “Route 66” on it.

        But, it’s also worth noting that “Route 66” is only a nickname for highway US 66 which was its official name. The last remains of US 66 were decommissioned in the 1980’s and I think that the “Route 66” signs with the US highway shield design were merely developed later as consumer novelty items or used by historical groups associated with the route as a means to promote the former highway.

      • P-Dubya

        Finally we are getting somewhere with this. Let them use it! I have always said that is there right but when they tell other small business owners that they cannot use M-22 or any sign of that likeness is simply wrong and bullish. They have made millions off a design not of their own creation so I applaud them for their creative capitalist move but I knew this could only last so long. PUBLIC DOMAIN PEOPLE! look into it. The Myer’s Brothers Lawyer is laughing all the way to the bank with all of the work they have given him over the years.

  • Laura

    Seriously? Can our state legislation find something constructive to spend their time Flint?? Or fixing the roads, education, or helping those with special needs or the elderly? What a waste. These business owners did everything legally, they are helping our local economy and tourism, and the state had 5 years to challenge. Stupid!

  • Evan

    They are basically free advertising for the state, with only good intentions. The tourism board should actually be subsidizing them as a promotional outlet for the state, not suing…. This is disappointing on behalf of the government. Unbelievable.

  • Gizmologist

    Too bad Fox17 didn’t bother to do more than parrot the Myers Brothers side of the story, given that the AG’s opinion letter that fully explains their side is already public. This isn’t a case of the AG deciding to “pick” on some little guys. It’s a response to pleas from other Michigan small businesses that have been legally threatened by the bothers for daring to sell other merchandise with the M-22 highway sign on it, or signs of other Michigan highways as they claim they are too similar to “their” trademark. Yep, the brothers managed to file the paperwork with the US Trademark Office and got them to OK it, though I doubt the bureaucrat that signed off on it was aware of the designs origins. Getting a trademark is one thing, keeping it and being able to apply it in a court is another thing entirely.

    Decades ago the State of Michigan explicitly declared that the Michigan state highway sign design was a work that is in the “public domain.” This refers to the copyright status of the design. Therefore anyone can use it. That includes the Myers Brothers when they started their business. However, as the Michigan AG points out, in 1995 the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously that you cannot use trademark law to give protection to a work that is in the public domain in terms of copyright. Copyrights are limited by time, but trademarks are forever as long as you keep renewing them periodically. The court stated that trying to use trademark law to assert ownership of something that is in the public domain is an improper “end run” around copyright law.

    Lastly, it would be pretty funny if the University of Michigan filed suit against M-22 LLC for trademark infringement by the incorporation of their long-trademarked “Block M” in the M-22 design. That M was added by the state highway engineer that designed the signs as a “hat tip” to his alma mater!

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