Highway-Sign-Based Trademark Troubles North of the Border


 

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Entrepreneurs are finding out that governments don’t like it when a private business convert public highway sign into a trademarks. And Canada is no different. 

Earlier this year, two brothers whose northern Michigan shop sells products aimed at water sports enthusiasts found itself fighting the state attorney general over whether they could claim trademark rights in an image of their favorite state highway sign, M22

Now, CBC News reports that across the border in Canada, the owners of an Ottawa craft distillery was told by the Ontario government to stop using a local highway sign as their logo. 

The North of 7 Distillery faced objections from Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation over the logo, which consists of a black figure “7” on a shield topped by a crown, the symbol used by the government to mark King’s Highway 7, which runs 330 miles through southern Ontario. 

The provincial government issued a statement asserting that the use of the logo “could lead to the belief that the products have received endorsement or are produced and sold under governmental patronage, approval and authority.” 

The CBC report quotes the owners of the distillery as saying that they couldn’t afford to fight over the logo. The distillery’s website now shows a stylized “N of 7” logo. 

It’s important to note that the provincial government is in the liquor business. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario is a crown corporation that sells alcoholic beverages at more than 650 retail locations throughout the province.