Highway Signs: Public Domain or Product Brands? The M22 Dispute

The attorneys at The Concept Law Group, an intellectual property law firm, are monitoring an interesting trademark dispute case that has recently developed in the state of Michigan. The case involves a standard black-and-white state highway sign, and has pitted the state against brothers Matt and Keegan Myers, founders of a business called M22.

M22 received a federal trademark registration in 2007 for its “M22” logo, which it printed on t-shirts. The M22 logo is designed to resemble a standard black-and-white state highway sign, specifically that of the M-22 highway in Michigan, and has proven to be popular with Michigan residents. M22 claims that it maintains the exclusive right to use the road sign logo as a product brand.

The state, however, sued M22, alleging state and federal trademark violation for registering the logo as a trademark. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a lawsuit officially challenging the M22 trademark, stating that state highway signs are in the public domain for anyone to use, much like the American flag, and that anybody should be able to market them.

According to M22’s website, the brothers indicated that the M-22 highway is an important symbol of their everyday lives. As a result, they wanted to find a way to show their pride and passion for the region. The M22 website offers an insight into why the brothers feel so strongly about the M22 logo:: “A symbol, just for us, to wear proudly; something that meant so much: M22. Put it on a shirt for friends and family and spread that Michigan love around a bit. That was as far as we thought it would go, honestly, until we started getting requests.” http://www.m22.com/pages/about


The outcome of this case seems to depend upon whether or not the court will rule that road signs are official state insignias. Per the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), “designs that do not rise to the level of being ‘emblems of national authority’ are not refused,” meaning that the M22 logo would have to be deemed an “emblem of national authority,” like the American flag, to be refused trademark protection. The burden will be on the state of Michigan to prove that the M22 symbol should be considered an “emblem of national authority” in order to win the lawsuit.

If you have a logo that you wish to protect, then you are encouraged to pursue a trademark application to defend your intellectual property against cheap knockoffs. Don’t know where to begin? Submit your trademark to The Concept Law Group for immediate protection.