Trademark of shapes / Fonts

Can I make shirts with drawings of, say a Delorean car? Is referencing the shape itself forbidden without getting permission?

What about letters in a font that are also used by institutions? There’s a shop near here using the initials of the nearby college, and not in a way that the school would approve, so I assume that initials are not able to be trademarked. Right? Can I use the font a school uses, if they don’t own the font? I assume I can. Can U Michigan prevent someone from using a font that they have permission for, and print a blue/yellow M on things for sale? I understand that the LA on the Dodger caps have an element of design, and I assume that’s trademarked, but can just a single letter be a trademark, or does a place like that own its font?

If it’s parody, you’re probably safe.

If there’s any chance of confusion (i.e., people thinking you’re affiliated with Delorean), you’re probably not safe.

For anything more specific than that, I strongly suggest doing a consultation with a copyright attorney. Realistically, you probably wouldn’t get anything worse than a cease-and-desist letter, but why risk the cost of a lawsuit if you can avoid it in advance?

Believe it or not, you can’t copyright a type design (at least not in the US). The typeface name can be trademarked and the actual published digital file of a font can be copyrighted, however. So if you share Adobe Garamond with your friend, you’re guilty. But if you open it in Fontographer, publish a new copy called “Clay Claude” and give that to a friend you’re technically fine. That’s why we have all of these 100 fonts for $5 with funny names which are ripoffs of the original cuts.

You’re pretty safe.

I used to sell prints of my photography online, and one of the images was of a public sculpture by Keith Haring (this was after his death). I especially liked this image because I had known Keith. Well, one day I received a letter by his estate, warning me not to use that image without their permission. Rather than getting involved in a legal or financial mess, I withdrew that photo from my inventory. I have no idea what would have happened if I hadn’t withdrawn it.

What was decided back in the 70s was that you had to make some kind of change to the font design, even if it was a character that was seldom, if ever, used. Don’t know whether that stipulation is still in effect.

I would have thought Spencerian Script had some Legal Protection.

Here’s some Famous Examples:

Your own link suggests that doing exactly that may not always be technically fine. See the two cases cited under Lawsuits, each about a company that took somebody else’s font, converted or modified it, and sold it under a different name. In both cases, the copier lost.

I’m guessing you’d be fine (at least as far as copyright) if you used Fontographer to produce a bitmap font (which apparently isn’t subject to copyright in the US), but not an outline font. (Almost all fonts for computer use nowadays are created in outline format, so they can be scaled to the desired size and still look OK.)

Fonts can also be protected by a design patent. The rules for copyrights, patents, and trademarks are completely different, and you’d better make sure you’re OK on all three fronts.

Ebola Straight, I was talking about typefaces. Those two examples are logos.

That’s encouraging, and a bit better of a situation than the situation I presumed, based on the proliferation of ripoff faces there are. However, I still think the OP is in safe territory unless the college s/he’s talking about actually used custom-drawn letterforms in their logo.

Cardinal, do you have links to the logo of the shop and college in question?

Yeas, but the script for both is Spencerian:

(Sorry for mangling your name before — I was typing from a phone :smack:)

Spencerian Script is a genre, not a specific typeface. Below on the Wikipedia entry are other genres of European scripts: cursive, chancery, round, etc.

If Ford and Coca-Cola used the same typeface, their “O” would be the same. But while both logos were borne out of the Spencerian genre, each was custom drawn (and further modified over the ensuing decades).

I mean something like this:

This kind of bold slab-serif associated with both college and military institutions is almost a sub genre unto itself. They’re in no way unique to any one college. IANAL but I am a graphic designer and there’s no risk here.

Also… I get that it has an ® attached to it, but I don’t see how it could survive a challenge of enforcement for anything more than an exact — and I mean exact — replica, down to the exact stroke width, fill color, serif size, etc.

The ® indicates it’s a registered trademark. For trademarks, it doesn’t matter that your version is slightly different, or even whether you invented it on your own without even knowing about the original, and it just happens to look similar.

Trademarks are all about preventing consumer confusion. If people who see your shirt with an M on it are likely to think it’s an official Michigan Wolverines shirt (even if it’s a different color, or the line widths are all different) then you have a trademark problem.

Whether you have a trademark violation is independent of whether you’re violating copyrights or design patents. I think any graphic designer should have a basic awareness of all three.