If you’ve been to Montana, then chances are you’ve heard someone refer to our state as the “Last Best Place”—and if you’ve been here you know why. I anticipated that this post would be about convincing you the validity of this description, maybe with some visual proof. But with a little research, I found there was an even better story that would do all the convincing for me.
So where did this little adage come from? Well, in 1988 writer and professor at the University of Montana, William Kittredge, joined with Annick Smith to publish an anthology of Montana based writings called, The Last Best Place. Once the title hit the public, it was as if Kittredge had finally summed up in just four words what everyone in Montana had already been thinking and feeling. The slogan began to appear everywhere, even in the state tourism office.
However, what had become unanimous coinage for the great state of Montana was challenged by corporate privatization when a Nevada businessman, David E. Lipson, wanted to trademark the phrase “the last best place” for his businesses in 2002. While a trademark does not prevent public use it creates limitations and the possibility of trademark infringement. In Lipson’s case, the proposed trademark was so broad, it would have virtually given his businesses a “de facto monopoly” on the phrase according to the New York Times.
Well, many people had a bit to say about this potential trademark, including Governor Brian Schweitzer and Senator Max Baucus. “Trying to trademark “The Last Best Place” is as ludicrous as someone trying to patent a Montana sunset,” Baucus said. The best part is that Baucus stood by these words and fought to ban the trademark. In 2009, he included language in a congressional bill that prevented trade marking of “Last Best Place.” He said, he’d include it every year if necessary.
I can tell you that just like Montana isn’t your normal place, neither is this instance of trademark prevention. The symbols of Smokey the Bear and the Olympic Rings cannot be trademarked, but even these are extremely rare instances. Washington trademark lawyer, Patrick Jennings, told the New York Times, “For slogans, such as a name like The Last Best Place, it’s extremely unusual.” Just further evidence that Montana isn’t your usual place.