Help sought with suite of icons using proprietary symbols

nicholasgross's picture

Hi all,

I'm developing a suite of icons for use by an organisation. The majority are generic symbols from public domain or developed by me, while others are TM logos or symbols such as word, powerpoint, PDF logo, Facebook etc. It's these kinds of proprietary symbols that have me scratching my head.

Any advice from someone who has been through a similar situation? I would normally seek permission from the company, but I'm unsure about even the language or terms I should use or whether I would run into a brick wall etc. I'm tempted to develop a suite of generic symbols which try and represent these icons without reproducing them but that seems a little counter-intuative or something.

Any help would be well appreciated. Thanks for reading.

Karl Stange's picture

In my limited experience, reproducing exact corporate logos and trademarked symbols in your own font or vector art could be problematic if the material you are creating is distributed externally, particularly if the logo is used or associated with material that could be perceived negatively and reflect negatively on that logo. They are likely to be protected by intellectual property laws and if you are in doubt at this point it is definitely worth contacting the relevant corporate entities to seek permission.

In the past I have created a font using a version of a company logo but this was done in conjunction with the relevant company and has resulted in a unique dual copyright (specifically for that font, not the logo itself) and a series of agreements around permissions for using that font.

riccard0's picture

Whenever possible I would go with generic icons. Aside possible IP issues, a good word processor (or presentation software) icon will be more useful both in scope and time than the exact reprodution of the Microsoft™ Office™ Word™ 2010™ (or Microsoft™ Office™ PowerPoint™ 2010™) icon.

JamesM's picture

I assume you're talking about uses such as putting social media logos (Facebook, Twitter, etc) at the bottom of the page with an invitation to visit your pages there, or placing a PowerPoint logo and saying "download this info as a PowerPoint file", and that kind of thing. Is that right?

Normally you wouldn't put trademarked logos in the middle of a sentence, so I don't see why you'd need to incorporate them in a font. Just provide a collection of pre-existing logos to the users to place as graphic files. For the users' convenience, size them consistently, and give the files names that are easy to understand and which group all them together when viewed alphabetically (like "icon_facebook_small.jpg", "icon_powerpoint_small.jpg").

oldnick's picture

First, please be clear on this distinction:

There is "Fair Use," and then there is "abuse."

If you are simply helping folks clarify where they are going when they click, AND there is no malice in your heart, then you a doing BOTH your font users AND the target sites a favor.

If, on the other hand, there is bad intent to deceive—the legal definition of fraud—then, you are opening yourself up to a HEAP of trouble.

To what tune you MIGHT be held accountable for the bad actions of others can end up being based on how badly your helpful tool has been abused. However, since such was not YOUR intent, then you OUGHT TO BE cool.

You know you have a problem when some lawyer wins a suit against a handgun manufacturer because the manufacturer was at fault for selling a gun to someone who uses one of their products with bad intent.

In other words, when hell freezes over. Capisce?

nicholasgross's picture

Hi all OP here, I set this and promptly forgot about it! Thanks for all your help.

@Karl stange thanks -- yep that's what I thought , so just a general email to someone in charge of licensing outlining proposed usage might be the go? Sounds like from your experience you found the company accessible. Alternatively I find the contacts and then handball to the client

@riccard0 I think you might be onto something there -- avoid the TMs altogether. The client has specified the exact problems but it may be more trouble then its worth.

@Jamesm thanks, Just to clarify, I'm not looking to construct a font just a series of graphics.

@Oldnick also depends on your contractual arrangement with your client too I'm guessing as to who's responsible for what. For the record Australia has fair-dealing rather than fair-use which seems to be narrower in scope than the states.

thanks again, still scratching my head -- conversation with the client I'm thinking :) It seems the newer style web 2.0 style organisations accept that people will take their icons and use them and so provide more style-guide type guidance. This seems like a good way to go.

Nick Shinn's picture

Why not conduct a focus group and see what users prefer?

After having spent many years trying to learn Adobe’s previous CS icons, I must say that I find the present coloured squares with letters much easier—but that might not be the case if all the other icons in my Dock followed the same format!

If you do use proprietary images, the proprietors will no doubt immediately change them, rendering your artwork out of date, if not obsolete. But that wouldn’t be so bad, it would be like how folks round here will give you directions like “turn left where the Price Chopper store used to be,” a real team-builder once you figure it out.

AlexanderKatt's picture

@ nicholasgross
Google it.

Here is what Adobe says about the pdf icon:

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