While a combination marketing tool, communication device and ideally, pleasing art form, signs is considered "speech", and in the United States, is legally protected as such.
The following are the four different sets of legal issues you will want to know about regarding your business signs.
Almost all local governments control the construction, materials, electrical or other operating components, size, numbers and location of business signs. Typically, standards for construction, materials, and operation are found in local building and electrical codes; regulations controlling physical parameters and placement or display are found either as part of a comprehensive land use zoning code or in a separate sign code.
Business signs are considered a form of commercial speech that has significant protection from unlawful government interference under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Also, under the Fourteenth Amendment, local governments are required to provide due process and equal treatment to all applicants as part of the sign permitting process.
There are federal laws protecting a sign company or business owner when someone tries to copy the design, artwork, or wording of a business sign without authorization. For example, an innovative method for constructing a sign may be protected by a patent, the original artwork on a sign may be copyrighted, and a unique business logo may obtain both trademark and copyright protection.
Finally, whether a business owner owns or leases the sign, the sign is a business asset and receives the same tax treatment as any other tangible business property.
Take a look at Government Regulations & Codes to see a quick bullet list summary about what to know to obtain a permit or file a variance.