Brothers Matt and Keegan Myers are kiteboarding royalty. (Kiteboarding is a sport in which a person’s feet are strapped to a small surfboard and is propelled by a kite to which the person is harnessed.) They traveled the world in search of the perfect winds and waves. They realized that the ideal conditions had been right in front of them all along in Michigan, their homestate. Together, they started a kiteboarding company called Broneah, Inc. Later, in 2003, the brothers started printing T-shirts and bumper stickers with the logo of Michigan’s scenic State Highway M-22 for local surfers and kiteboarders. In 2006, the brothers were featured on the cover of the local Traverse Magazine in which Keegan wore a T-shirt with the M-22 logo. Immediately, there was a high demand for M-22 T-shirts and in November 2007, the brothers opened the M-22 Inc store in Traverse City, Michigan. The brothers trademarked the words “M 22” in 2008 and the M-22 state highway logo in 2011.
To the brothers, M-22 symbolizes an outdoorsy, active way of life that is exemplified in the northern shore of Lake Michigan. They have been aggressively protecting their trademark by sending cease an desist letters to businesses using the M-22 logo. Later, they started asserting the right to images of other Michigan state highways. They and their lawyers argue that the concept of using Michigan’s highway logo (small, black, stylized letter “M” above a large, black number “22”, within a white diamond, on a black square background) on clothing, sporting goods, and novelty items was exclusively theirs.
Other local businesses, like Carolyn Sutherland, owner of Good Hart General Store, disagree. Good Hart General Store is a souvenir shop that sits on M-119 and has been selling items bearing the M-119 logo for decades. This past March, Sutherland appealed to her state representative and put together a 140 page document for him to present to the attorney general. In May, Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette sided with Sutherland and stated, “one person or company cannot claim to have produced all of the goodwill associated with the particular highway-route marker design that represents the region.” However, the brothers are planning on defending their trademark, arguing that trademarks are a matter of federal law, so the attorney general’s opinion is of little significance.