Choosing the right typeface and font for your business project is a crucial decision that should not be taken lightly. It’s important to be aware that the use of typefaces and fonts can implicate copyright, trademark, and patent protections, which can lead to strict liability, statutory damages, and treble damages if violated.
While typefaces and fonts may not be considered protectable under copyright law, the computer code used to generate the font is potentially subject to copyright protection. This means that any commercial use of the typeface and font code should be carefully evaluated under the end-user license agreement (EULA) of the software being used. Common limitations may include certain commercial uses, which can create unanticipated issues for businesses using the software on a day-to-day basis.
Trademark law can also extend protections to typefaces incorporated into a trademarked logo. For example, Disney’s famous and distinctive typeface is incorporated into many of its registered trademarks. If a competitor were to use the same typeface in one of Disney’s many lines of business, the potential for a trademark infringement claim arises.
In addition, typeface and font designs are eligible for design patents. Many computer system providers will offer their own unique typeface and font designs that are subject to this additional intellectual property protection. This type of patent protection lasts for 15 years before the typeface or font will enter the public domain.
To avoid legal issues later on, it’s important to conduct prep work and evaluate typeface and font considerations up front. This includes reviewing the applicable EULA before using software-supplied typefaces and fonts, particularly if your intended use is commercial. If necessary, a “business” version of the software may be available for extra cost, which could offer greater use permissions.
If you want to ensure greater flexibility and avoid limitations on your company’s use of the typeface and font in the future, consider hiring a third party to design a unique typeface for your company’s business needs, particularly for logos, product packaging, and other public-facing projects. However, it’s important to ensure that the designer’s work is original and qualifies as work for hire and/or all right, title, and interest to such typeface is properly assigned to your company’s ownership. Additionally, the contractual arrangement should provide adequate intellectual property indemnification and representations that the custom typeface does not violate any third-party intellectual property rights, such as a design patent covering the font or typeface.
The use of typefaces and fonts in commercial endeavors requires careful consideration of copyright, trademark, and patent protections. While it may seem like a small detail, choosing the right typeface and font can make a big difference in the success of your business project. By conducting proper research and evaluation up front, businesses can avoid legal issues and protect their intellectual property rights.