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→ With tens of thousands of fonts out there, how often do you think it happens that two designers name their typefaces the same? In my career as a type designer of roughly 15 years it has happened twice. Once was last week.
The Rollmops Affair
The two typefaces in question: Rollmops (formerly known as Sonar Script) by Felix Braden and our own Sonar-Sans.
Andra, a graphic designer friend had written, alerting me to someone out there promoting a free font named Sonar. Deep breath.

The name Sonar was a wonderful find for me. It came to me while studying my new typeface’s first proof sheet. Standing there by the laser printer I was elated. The typeface had talked to me, had told me its name and I went on to never question it again. I even think this might have been when I first bonded with it. I realized that suddenly I understood the nature of Sonar-Sans.

I can imagine the shock when Felix Braden of Floodfonts in Cologne received my note informing him that the name Sonar was already taken. I had tried to be collegial but curt, a difficult combination. This is not a trivial situation, not the least of all troubles being that in a conflict like this, there are intellectual property laws at play. But besides looming legal costs there is also a human, emotional side. Type designers often think of their work as their babies and every baby is unique, and golden, and special. Until the neighbor’s kid comes over with the very same name.

«…the whole thing came as a shock to me. […] I had compiled names in a list, which I double checked with Myfonts und Identifont, and then divided in taken and available. I had listed Sonar as available not long ago and found the name suited the concept of my typeface well. Unfortunately I did not check again before I published.»

— Felix Braden

In spite of the nasty surprise Felix reacted graciously and without hesitation. He did not challenge the validity of our trademark. Instead he promised to rename his typeface and remove all references to its original name. Two days later Sonar’s namesake had disappeared from the web. I am grateful and impressed to say the least.

The new name of Felix Braden's typeface is Rollmops, now available for free from the Floodfonts website. It is definitely worth checking out and has received very favorable reviews on Slanted as well as on Typophile.

A footnote on due diligence

To check the availability of a font’s name the first go-to place these days is obviously Google. But the second place a type designer can consult is still, and lastly it always pays to have a type literate circle of friends to consult with.
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created   Mar. 20, 2013
updated  Dec. 06, 2013
1 comment

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 By David Lemon on 2013 03 25

I’ve encountered a handful of cases where a designer was using a name that infringed one of our trademarks. Like you, I’ve always tried to approach this on the human level, and each time the designer apologized and changed the name without requiring legal intervention. When we operate from the sense that we’re all in this together, it’s usually possible to be reasonable.

Naming new designs can be seriously hard; we want something memorable, and which communicates some essence of the design. I’ve been surprised how many times my searches have uncovered more than one design using the name I was hoping to use!

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