Posted on 1/12/2016 1:24:34 AM By Jordan Arnot Leahey

Last month, Michigan Probate Judge Terrance Keith filed applications to register RIVERWALK DETROIT and THE DETROIT RIVERWALK trademarks for use in connection with various clothing items. These applications have drawn the attention of some news outlets because the Detroit RiverWalk, a path stretching about 5 miles along the Detroit River shoreline, is managed by the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, a nonprofit with no apparent connection to the trademark applicant.

The Conservancy has a DETROIT INTERNATIONAL RIVERFRONT design trademark registration for recreation park services and its work includes the construction of plazas, pavilions and green spaces for Detroit residents and visitors.

According to its website, Conservancy members, known as “Friends of the Detroit RiverWalk,” help with the ongoing care and maintenance of the RiverWalk in exchange for a variety of membership benefits, including “Friends of the RiverWalk branded items.” In the event those branded items are clothing and use either THE DETROIT RIVERWALK or RIVERWALK DETROIT, the Conservancy may have prior rights in those trademarks.

Even if the Conservancy has not used the identical marks, the use of a confusingly similar trademark may provide a basis for an infringement claim. That said, there are currently nineteen federally registered RIVERWALK trademarks owned by a number of entities used in connection with a variety of goods and services, which may indicate a “crowded field” for the term. When multiple entities use a common term like RIVERWALK in connection with related goods/services, the scope of protection is correspondingly narrow, making it less likely that any single entity has exclusive, broad rights to that term.

It may not be a cakewalk for the RiverWalk marks as they travel through the US Patent and Trademark Office process, including publication of the marks for opposition by third parties.