–Sharon Armstrong, Attorney

Times. Garamond. Arial. Copperplate. Chances are that if you are reading this, you not only know what the four terms preceding this sentence mean; you probably use them throughout your daily life.

I’m talking about fonts. In the branding world, fonts add more than a little something extra to the words of an advertisement, a title, or copy, communicating to viewers something more than that which words, pictures and layout can express on their own.  

The mixture of hard angles and titled edges of the font used in the “Star Trek” title evoke what we imagine to be the future:

The classic, familiar edges of Times New Roman make reading most documents, and just about any newspaper with the words “Times” in the title, easy to read:

And the needlepoint sampler font used for the old TV show “Mama’s Family” evokes the down-home country feel of that show:

Fonts are clearly integral to branding and advertising. But how can they be protected?

Trademark law requires a symbol to identify a source of goods and services. A font is, by definition, a size and style of type; thus, the most that trademark law can offer is to protect the names of fonts (e.g., Palatino, Lucida). Thus, while the public may not infringe a font creator’s rights by using a font, unscrupulous font designers should not be able to sell or license fonts under the names of previously established fonts.

Although some Western countries protect typefaces through copyright law, U.S. law currently does not offer such protection to fonts. Of course, the technology used to create a font, such as computer software, may be protectable under copyright.

Typeface designs may, however, be protected by design patents, provided that the font meets the requirements for a patentable design.

For this reason, a license may be necessary in order to use a font in connection with your commercial branding activities.