Can You Trademark a Highway Sign?

Highway signs for famous roadways are increasingly popping up on a variety of consumer merchandise from home décor to t-shirts. But can companies who use these logos obtain trademark protection?

According to the Attorney General of Michigan (and many other legal experts), the answer is no. AG Bill Schuette recently issued a legal opinion concluding that the highway sign logos are public property and cannot be “commandeered” for private use.

“Because the State of Michigan, the creator of the design, placed the Michigan highway route marker design in the public domain, no entity can lawfully obtain intellectual property protection of the design under trademark or copyright law,” Schuette explained.

“The fact that they have appropriated the design from the public domain and affixed it to merchandise does not create a legitimate basis for trademark protection,” he added.

As reported by the Detroit Free Press, the legal opinion was pursued trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for road sign logos for two of the state’s most scenic roadways, M-22, which runs along the shore of lake Michigan, and M-119, a 20-mile drive known as the “Tunnel of Trees.” Both businesses were threatening legal action against other merchants that used the highway logos.


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