This is a doozy that might be one of those “Only in Detroit” moments … and not in a good way.

The Detroit RiverWalk is a popular destination. Millions of dollars have been poured into its transformation over recent years making a large impact with parks, public spaces, and development — but they happened to forget about a minor detail in their sweeping project that will eventually run from the bridge to Belle Isle to the Ambassador Bridge.

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, it turns out, never trademarked “The Detroit RiverWalk” or “RiverWalk Detroit,” according to Crain’s Detroit Business, who broke this story.

As reported, it’s a stunning tale.

Wayne County Probate Judge Terrence A. Keith of the well-known Keith family that includes the famous Judge Damon Keith and Arise!Detroit founder and former newspaperman Luther Keith, saw this and decided to file for a trademark with the U.S. Patent And Trademark Office himself on December 13.

According to the federal trademark database, the conservancy does have the trademark to the name “Detroit International Riverfront.”

Keith said he is moving to showcase the “innate beauty of Detroit,” an effort that gained momentum after he published Sunrise on the Detroit River, A Love Letter to Detroit, a 2014 book of photographs taken by the judge. He’d also like to “help shape the image of the RiverWalk, along with the conservancy, in a way that is beneficial in a broader perspective.”

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy was founded in 2003. There has been talk of branded goods being sold by the Conservancy, but they’ve not launched any items as of yet.

It’s important to note that trademark protection isn’t just with filing, it’s also judged by prior use. And this is a filing, not an awarding of the mark. So this isn’t settled.

Here’s the kicker. According to the report, the judge said:

“I’d like to give a portion of the proceeds to them, but not all,” Keith said. “If I can use this to further benefit agencies, OK, and still make some money for myself, that is what I would like to do.”

More on the issue here and the original story, including the opinion of a law professor on the matter.

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