M22 Kiteboarder,Boneah Brothers

Matt and Keegan Myers, two brothers who teach kiteboarding on northern Michigan’s beaches, didn’t start out to be clothing designers. But the popularity of their “M22” apparel—named after their favorite shoreline highway—has them embroiled in a trademark battle with their home state.

Back in 2006, the Traverse City, Mich., brothers were just interested in hanging out at the beach and practicing kiteboarding, a sport they’d picked up during a college tour of the Pacific Rim. Eventually, they started a kiteboarding teaching business as the “Broneah Brothers,” a name that combines “brothers” and Neahtawanta, where they grew up.

“We just found ourselves off of Route 22 at some beach just kiting,” Matt Myers told Bloomberg BNA. “If someone saw us and asked us to teach them how to do it, that’s how we made money.”

Their clothing business was inadvertently launched after a local magazine featured the brothers on their cover. Keegan Myers happened to be wearing a homemade T-shirt inspired by the M22, which runs over 100 miles along Lake Michigan from Manistee to Traverse City, looping around the Leelanau Peninsula coast and touching upon the many beaches the brothers enjoy.

After their picture appeared on the cover, the brothers started getting requests from people who wanted to buy an M22 shirt.  Eventually, they started selling apparel featuring the logo as well as other items, like wine.

The brothers, who have registered trademarks for the M22 and LOVE Michigan brands and logos, began enforcing their rights and, in 2011, came into conflict with a Lansing, Mich., shop that was selling wine with a very similar highway sign logo that used the name “M119.”

The Myerses’ lawyer, John Di Giacomo of Revision Legal PLLC, told Bloomberg BNA that the store’s owner got the state’s attorney general involved, who in May 2012 issued an opinion letter stating that a state highway route marker can’t be the subject of exclusive trademark rights because it’s a symbol of state government. In 2013, the state filed a petition with the PTO to get the Myerses’ M22 registrations cancelled. The proceeding likely won’t go to trial until mid-2017.

Meanwhile, the PTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal board ruled in August that there’s a genuine dispute of material fact over whether the M22 highway sign really is a state insignia. It admonished the state for repeatedly filing summary judgment motions and prohibited it from filing any more.

A couple of weeks later, the state attorney general, whose office didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA for comment about this story, asked a Michigan state trial court to declare that the M22 trademark registration is unlawful. Di Giacomo moved to have that action shifted to a federal court in Michigan.

While the dispute continues, the Myers brothers, who have an entire website page devoted to the trademark issue, continue to do business. Several beer makers have offered to supply them, although they think wine works better with their lifestyle brand. And they’re preparing for the M22 run-bike-paddle challenge in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore next summer.