A company in the Netherlands that claims trademark ownership of “Route 66” and its shield has persuaded Zazzle.com, an international retailer of custom-made products, to remove the listings of least two American vendors who have tried to sell Route 66-related products on the website.
The company making the claim is TemptingBrands.com, aka Route66Licensing.com. The domain owner, according to the website and a domain search, is Martijn Berkhout of Amsterdam.
I’m no trademark lawyer. But after checking several sources and my own research, I can report this with confidence:
- “Route 66” and the famous Route 66 shield are in the public domain in the United States; no one here can make a trademark claim on it.
- However, someone in Europe has made a trademark claim of Route 66. As far as we know, it’s still in effect. In what European and other countries the trademark exists is unknown.
- Although vendors selling Route 66 products in the United States can do so without running afoul of trademark law, it may be a different story in Europe.
It’s being speculated that Robert Groeneveld, also of the Netherlands, is behind the new Route66Licensing.com effort as a silent partner, although there’s no proof. Groeneveld applied for a Route 66 trademark in Europe during the 1990s and, during a subsequent trip to the United States, tried to persuade U.S. businesses that sold Route 66 products to pay a fee for the alleged usage of his trademark.
Bob Moore, who was executive editor at Route 66 Magazine at the time, said that he told Groeneveld to get lost (in more colorful language) and threatened to have him arrested for trespassing if he showed up on the premises again.
Since then, it’s been nearly 10 years since anyone in the Route 66 community has heard about Groeneveld.
To elaborate on Groeneveld and the trademark/licensing issues, Oklahoma Route 66 expert Jim Ross said in an e-mail:
The shield is public domain in the U.S. but not in many foreign countries. He successfully obtained trademark rights in most European countries and possibly on other continents. Not sure. Publications are exempt, which is why books, mags, etc., can be sold in those countries without interference. I know for a fact that he successfully sued and forced a travel agency to stop using the shield, which put them out of business. There were others, but I can’t recall all of the instances. He knows he can’t claim rights in the U.S., but that hasn’t stopped him from trying to intimidate or deceive people into complying with his licensing agreements.
At least one company in Arizona and another in Wyoming saw its Route 66 products on Zazzle pulled after TemptingBrands.com complained. And other sellers, as this Zazzle forum post reveals, have encountered the same obstacles.
Johnnie Meier, a longtime advocate of Route 66 in New Mexico, observed this irony:
The interesting thing to me is that they have produced a route 66 video on their web site … that includes copyrighted material from photographers and artists we all know. So, they are clearly guilty of infringement themselves.
Zazzle.com and Route66Licensing.com have not replied to e-mails from Route 66 News on this matter.
Members of the Route 66 community, including the Route 66 Alliance, are deliberating their options.
However, in the meantime, Route 66 businesses should know that they can still sell products with the Route 66 shield in the United States without the fear of a trademark or copyright violation.