Many know the 3.5 mile path along the Detroit River shoreline as the Detroit RiverWalk, a growing attraction that includes parks, plazas, and green spaces. But many - even the nonprofit group that built this spot - were apparently unaware there's no trademark on its name.
Now, Wayne County Probate Court Judge Terrance Keith wants rights to it, and he wants to sell merchandise branded with the name.
Last month, he filed two trademark applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the names "the Detroit RiverWalk" and "RiverWalk Detroit."
The move is raising some eyebrows among Detroiters.
Sean Duranovich, who recently moved to Detroit, said, "I suppose you could do whatever you want in business but that's not really in the spirit of a public walkway."
Others point out, no one else thought to trademark the name before, and that Judge Keith is simply seizing an opportunity.
"The non-profiters are obviously going to be upset about it, but they should have thought about it before," Ensa Stafa said.
John Rothchild, an associate law professor at Wayne State University, told Action News the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy can claim it has rights to the name because of prior use, and that it can file in opposition to Keith. He pointed out trademark rights come from use of the mark, not from registration.
Judge Keith told Crain's Detroit Business that he's willing to share some proceeds with the conservancy, but not all, causing some to question whether it's his place at all to profit from a public space he doesn't run.
"Given what he does for a living and given that it's a public amenity, I would say he's really acting in not only bad taste, but morally questionable. This is a public facility. Why is he profiting off that?" Sean Duranovich asked.
Keith did not return calls for comment.
Marc Pasco with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy declined to comment.