Here’s another “what would you do?” message from a designer client who swears she didn’t steal a logo — but it looks like she did. Please post your advice, experience, comments, anything that would help. Here’s what she wrote:
I was hired by a local food co-op to design a logo for them — they do not exist yet, but are in the ‘gathering owners and building awareness of the initiative’ phase. I created three logo concepts, and they chose this one, with no changes. The logo went ‘live’ a few days later, and the group rolled out ownership materials, promotional flyers, a banner, and window clings for owners… they spent about $1000, which is a lot given their meager funds right now.
Two months after the logo launched, a volunteer — formerly from a Texas town and still with ties to that community — received an eNewsletter that mentioned a non profit and showed their (very similar) logo. He brought it to my attention, and at the co-op board meeting that night, I told the board what had been discovered.
I volunteered to contact the Texas non profit and explain the situation, hoping they would be okay with the similarity since it had not been deliberate, and both are local organizations in different states, different industries. The Texas non profit came back saying their legal department ‘wasn’t comfortable’ with the similarity and she didn’t feel they could allow us to use our logo.
So here are my questions:
- Their logo — to the best of my knowledge — has never been registered or TMd. My basic searches on the Patent & Trademark website didn’t turn up anything, nor did the site Logolounge.com which I refer to for researching similarities. How do designers discover potential problems like this with logos that haven’t been registered?
- What research do you as a designer do to avoid this? What due diligence are we obligated to perform.
- What is our responsibility to our clients when something like this happens?
- Does the Texas non profit have the right to forbid us to use our logo. (What’s similar is the font, a large exclamation point, and stacked text.) Is it enough for a clear claim?
- What CYA approach do you use? Most clients can’t afford (or can’t justify?) an outlay of several thousand dollars for a full trademark investigation. But with so many logos in the world, and the Internet making them ALL so accessible, won’t this become a more and more frequent issue?
And finally… what would YOU do? Would you walk away from the logo, materials, and what awareness has been built? Or would you feel we have the right to use the logo I designed? Is their logo forever tainted by this issue?