Can I trademark a Road Sign?

Yes, you can trademark a road sign if you are using the image of the road sign to identify and promote your company’s products or services.

This information was provided by our founding attorney, Xavier Morales, Esq. 

In order to trademark a road sign, you must demonstrate to the United States Patent and Trademark Office that you are utilizing the road sign to identify your products or services from your competitors.

The process of obtaining trademark protection for a highway sign involves careful consideration of both trademark rights and copyright laws. Unlike items in the public domain, a road sign's design under trademark law can provide intellectual property protection, ensuring your mark is safeguarded against unauthorized use.

If you trademark a road sign, it will prevent competitors from using it to mislead consumers. However, it's important to understand that trademarking a road sign grants you specific rights within the realm of commercial activities, not absolute ownership over the sign itself. Trademarking a road sign will not grant you sole control of the image, nor will it prevent federal or state authorities from using the sign, as that is well outside of the protection of a trademark.

Famous Road Sign Trademark Battles

There is a widely known case from 2015 of a trademark battle between the state of Michigan and a company called M22 over the M22 road sign. In Michigan there is a scenic route bordering the shore of Lake Michigan and the Leelanau Peninsula, it's State Highway M-22.

A Michigan-based company decided to take advantage of this opportunity and trademarked "M22", which was not only the name of their business but is the main design feature of their merchandise which includes clothes, glassware, hats, magnets, stickers, and more that all bear the "M22" wordmark and design mark, which look very similar to the M-22 road sign.

A Michigan Attorney General issued an opinion letter that the trademark should not have been granted due to the M22 mark being public domain. M22 disputed this opinion and wrote a piece on its website about the validity of its trademarks and that a business may draw upon an image from the public domain and gain trademark rights bearing that image.

The case went to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) where the dispute went on for years. In the meantime, the State of Michigan decided to replace all of the M-22 signs with just the number "22" to try and distinguish the signs from the brand.

Wrapping Up

While public property like road signs can become a significant part of your brand's identity, the transition of such symbols into private property through trademarking revolves around their unique meaning and association with your products or services.

If you desire to trademark a road sign, you should contact our associates today for a thorough trademark check, as many road signs are already trademarked. Our team can provide an expert opinion on the likelihood of securing a trademark and navigating the intricate balance between public and intellectual property rights.

The Process for Trademarking a Road Sign

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Xavier Morales, Esq.

About the Author

Xavier Morales, Esq.

Mr. Morales founded his trademark law practice in January 2007 with the goal of providing intellectual property expertise to entrepreneurs and businesses around the country. Since then, he has filed more than 6,000 trademarks with the USPTO. You can learn more about Xavier here.

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