First US design patent (Printing Types)

John Hudson's picture

Be it known that I, George Bruce, of the City and County of New York, in the State of New York, have produced new and improved Printing Types by cutting the originals in steel from new and varied designs...

It is regularly mentioned, in discussion of the history of typeface design protection in US law, that the first design patent granted, in 1842, was for a typeface. This week I happened to be corresponding with a US patent lawyer on another topic, and this came up in conversation. 'Oh, I have a copy of that patent application' he said. He was kind enough to send me a copy as a PDF, and give permission for me to post it in a public forum.

The application doesn't actually show the type design(s), and as the lawyer with whom I was talking noted, 'It would obviously not fly in this format today, but it is worthwhile to see form a historical perspective.'

I have not deciphered the whole document yet, but it looks to me from the initial paragraphs that was is being talked about is not a single design but something like a suite of types including ornamented letters of various sizes and 'border pieces'.

Of particular interest is the justification offered for the patent application near the bottom of the first page:

It is difficult to find much in Printers Types that is new in design if we regard only their characteristic lines, but if we look at the ways in which the figures are varied while the characteristic lines are retained, we find the same variety what would be expected in the portraits of a person painted by many different artists in different positions.

USDP1.pdf100.21 KB
plainclothes's picture

many thanks to your lawyer friend for sharing, and you for keeping our community in mind -- this is an excellent resource!

hrant's picture

What about Lawson's claim that Clarendon was the first font
to get legal protection* some time after 1845 in the UK?

* I guess he's not counting the RdR...


John Hudson's picture

I guess he’s not counting the RdR...

Or the protection Aldus obtained, via a monopoly on printing Greek, for his new types.

To clarify: no one is citing Bruce's patent as the first legal protection for typeface design. It is the first use of the particular protection of a design patent under US law.

It is interesting because the fact that the first US design patent was granted for typeface design is sometimes cited in favour of the suitability of this kind of protection, against the more generous protection of copyright. But note that the justification made by Bruce in this application makes a comparison to the painting of portraits, which are of course protected by copyright, not design patent.

Juliet Shen, on the ATypI list, notes that a copy of the Bruce foundry catalogue is in the Thorniley Collection, and will be available to perusal by TypeCon attendees on the Sunday night excursion to the museum. It may not be possible to identify the specific types for which the patent application is made, but we can probably get a pretty good idea.

Nick Shinn's picture

It looks like Bruce wanted to protect his work from being copied by the new electrotype process, which he mentions, and which his foundry was at the forefront in developing.

He is making the distinction between a skilful hand-made forgery and a mechanical facsimile, recognizing that copying by hand is acceptable (like different painters rendering the same subject) because it imparts the unique personality of the copyist artist/founder--but mechanical reproduction is not.

I don't expect that there would have been anything particularly unique about the samples he attached to the patent document, but perhaps the thinking was that if those types were subsequently electrotyped by a competitor, then a comparison would, in a court of law, favor Bruce.

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