Dealing with trademark, copyright and Legal issues

Often get asked what my policy is on dealing with the legalities of logo design, copyright and trademark issues as well as the registering and protection of naming.

Often get asked what my policy is on dealing with the legalities of logo design, copyright and trademark issues as well as the registering and protection of naming. This is easy. I don’t get caught up in any of it.

In my last post, I looked at ‘ownership’ of logo design files


Fundamentally it comes down to money, the budget and realistic expectations of what you are being payed for. I think it would be safe to assume that  many logo designers DON’T get paid a fair sum for their work. Not being paid enough for being creative is one thing, but to then be expected to deal with the nightmare that is the legal minefield is just ridiculous.

This is where a client gets what they pay for. And the time it takes to conduct legal research is most certainly not included with a low cost logo. And it’s rather unfair to assume that a designer should take this on if a client is paying peanuts for a logo in the first place.

Leave no room for misinterpretation

For most projects, I clearly and simply state on my proposal that the whole subject of copyright, trademark registering and legal research needed to ensure names are legal and available is the responsibility of the client.

It is quite blunt, but I feel something as important as this needs to be.

It’s important to get this cleared up at the beginning. The very mention of these issues may cause the client to actually consider something they have yet to deal with. Thus ensuring they don’t steam roll into a project unprepared.

For sure, if they have questions and concerns, then I am happy to advise and help direct them if I can. Also, if the budget is ‘reasonable’, and they have asked me to help with these complex issues, then I will gladly help. But usually, this is best left to a professional who deals with these issues, usually some form of specialised solicitor. As a logo designer, this is sort of thing is well beyond our scope and experience.

Focus, don’t feel guilty

My point is, don’t feel stressed if you have felt guilty in the past that you are unable to deal with these issues. You are not the only one. There are experienced and dedicated professionals whose job is to tackle copyright and trademark issues. Agencies have dedicated legal teams for this very thing, how can one freelance logo designer be expected to be able to deliver this service? You can’t, so don’t beat yourself up over it.

Just be honest and frank at the beginning, so the client is at least informed that creating an identity has more to it then just creating a pretty logo. There are deeper aspects that they need to be aware of and deal with appropriately.

Leave it to the professionals

I used to get stressed about it, I felt it was my responsibility, but I realised its a legal issue and I have no legal experience. It’s not just me washing my hands clear of this, it’s actually being very realistic and taking appropriate action. Being a copyright and trademark solicitor takes years of experience.Tto even think you could take over a solicitors role with something so crucial would be a huge mistake, that your client would likely pay for in the long run.

Then there is the foreign client challenge. Dealing with legalities in your own country is hard enough, having to then deal with how other countries deal with such things is just beyond worrying about. If an overseas clients hires you, then you must ensure they are under no illusions about the important of conducting the appropriate legal and trademark searches. They would be wise to hire local help in the legal sector.

If you are a mult-staffed identity agency, then it’s a different kettle of fish, just as it is if you regularly invoice £50k projects. Then the expectations will be different, but for the majority of logo designers being paid anything from around £100+, it’s not an issue to get caught up in.

Ideally, a client should have registered the company name, applied for any relevant licences, before approaching a designer. If a client has just made up a name, and come to you for a logo design, it would be wise for you to at least bring up all of the above. It’s not uncommon for a logo or identity project to be scrapped half way through once it is realised the current name cannot legally be used. Then you have to start all over again.

You are not let off completetly

You still have a responsibility to ensure that your own work falls within certain parameters, not to copy an existing identity design, to not infringe on others work etc. Even if by accident, this falls on your shoulders. It’s up to you to look at certain cultural sensitivities, if you are not getting paid much for the project, you might be better off not doing it at all.

I have turned my back on a few lucrative projects where the cultural requirements were far out of my comfort zone, way too much for one person to satisfactorily deal with.

So ensure you research any designs and ideas you do before comitting to them. Once an idea is in the running, ensure you search as thoroughly as you can that it does not look too similar to other logos. It’s a hard job, and it’s not a perfect science, but do your best.

Once the client has approved a design, then you can advise the client that they need to take measures to secure the trademark, ideally to be done sooner rather than later. But this ideally falls on the shoulders of a legal professional to be done thoroughly.

It’s important not to ignore it totally. It is your responsibly to set out what you are doing and what you are not doing within the scope of each project budget. By informing the clients that this is one area you will not be dealing with, you have made the issue abundantly clear.

This is not an exhaustive explanation, it’s more to just emphasise that a lot of this should be passed over to a legal professional.

As usual, this is just my opinion, it’s not a one size fits all ‘do as I say.’