Let's chat about Trademark, Registered & Copyright Symbols

Matthijs HerzbergMatthijs Herzberg Posts: 140
edited April 2021 in Technique and Theory
Browsing this forum and the internet in general, I found little information on the subject of copyright/trademark symbols--mostly details about which one should legally be applied where, but nothing on their design.
©,®, and ™ seem to vary greatly from font to font. Sometimes they are as big (or bigger than) the caps, sometimes they're superscripted.
Sometimes the ring surrounding the Registered and Copyright marks is hairline, sometimes the same thickness as the letters.
On my display fonts, I like to give them some personality, for instance by turning the "TM" into a ligature, and by matching the surrounding ring to the rest of the typeface. I also tend to adjust letterforms (especially the R) to fit better inside of their circle. I feel comfortable doing so because I doubt any of these fonts will make their way into legal documents anyway, so I might as well have some fun with it. If they ever get used for a big-time logo, the designer can just add the ® from Helvetica or whatever.
What do you consider best practice and why? Also, feel free to show off your favorite marks!



  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,098
    The best practice is indeed plain and simple, but occasionally, and as you say, especially for display faces, I have had the opportunity to indulge in something more fancy.

  • Igor PetrovicIgor Petrovic Posts: 248
    edited April 2021
    I was never sure should these marks be treated as "logos" or be "typefaced".

    I've read somewhere (maybe that Microsoft Type Guide doc) that sometimes the very same signs are used in all foundry's fonts and weights (or maybe one for serif and one for sans). That kind of makes sense for me and I plan to do so. I am a fan of "optimizing" type designer's working time :) And the public perception of these symbols are more logo-like maybe. 

    But I really like designs that are shown in this thread! So if one has time and interest, it's nice to see them.

    And just a note, I always try to make all of the similar superscripted characters the same height (ordinals, tm, asterisk, and similar) and that is somewhat bigger than (cap height/2)
  • These symbols have legal substance, so it’s best to keep them basic. If one ever ends up in court to protect their intellectual property and the case hinges on whether a defendant was properly aware that something was copyrighted or trademarked, it might (in theory) matter whether the symbol was legible.

    I don’t know if this is true in the real world, but I’ve certainly dealt with corporate counsel advising that these marks be deployed clearly and properly. For example, making the copyright symbol so tiny that it’s not really visible undermines its legal value, so making it over-designed or not clearly recognizable is also risky.
  • Matthijs HerzbergMatthijs Herzberg Posts: 140
    edited April 2021
    @Nick Shinn Thanks for sharing! Top row second from the left has to be my favorite, very clever.

    @Igor Petrovic The pragmatic approach! I respect that, and maybe should do the same. Same for the estimated and liter signs, I reckon. Also I never thought of the asterisk as being a superscripted mark but I suppose that positioning wise it definitely could be.

    @Christopher Slye Interesting point. Although I doubt the type designer would be held responsible for a poorly designed copyright mark, it also isn’t in our interest to get our customers in legal trouble. I’m torn between wanting to provide something interesting vs something useful—the direction I go in still would depend on the character of the typeface I’m designing.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,098
    I usually do the ® as a superscript

    That may be good for use in running text, but doesn’t it make the glyph rather small in footnotes?
    I believe the best practice is to provide a separate <sups> glyph, which I try to do if I can remember, or be bothered.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,632
    edited April 2021
    Footnotes? First, many fonts are designs which will never be used for a footnote. Or at least, shouldn’t be.

    I submit that making something ideal for a minor use, at the expense of making it wrong everywhere else, is usually a bad idea. In almost all contexts, I regard a ® that is the same size and alignment as the © to be an error.

    If the font is intended for relatively small sizes, the ® can be the same size, or nearly the same size, as the ©—but it should still be raised.

    If you put it in the font at baseline, you are forcing the user to fix it in every situation in which it is undesirable—which is most situations. For some fonts, it is all situations.

  • At Adobe, we’d usually make © figure- or cap-height (fitting with its usual function inline with a numeric year). We’d make ™ and ® superscripted, sized according to the intended optical size. It was always a great relief to have an optical size axis so we could make ® tiny at display sizes.

    I’m sure we had varying success with it. That is, the size and position of ™ and ® is exactly the kind of thing one changes their opinion about after the font ships! 🙂 
  • @Christopher Slye Interesting point. Although I doubt the type designer would be held responsible for a poorly designed copyright mark, it also isn’t in our interest to get our customers in legal trouble. I’m torn between wanting to provide something interesting vs something useful—the direction I go in still would depend on the character of the typeface I’m designing.
    No, there’s no chance of a designer being legally liable about that — it’s the typesetter’s responsibility — but IMO making strangely-designed legal bugs is not serving the customer/user very well!

    I’ve certainly dealt with the problem. If I don’t like the way ® looks when I type it (that is, if it’s not functional), I’ll re-size and re-position it, or if I don’t like it at all, I’ll just swap one in from a different font.

    Having said that, I agree with Mark about making it harmonious. I don’t think it has to always look generic, as long as it’s legible and clear. (Just look at what everyone did with the Euro symbol when asked to use the terrible “spec” symbol. People designed their own, but usually with sensitivity to their purpose.)
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,098
    edited April 2021
    I submit that making something ideal for a minor use, at the expense of making it wrong everywhere else, is usually a bad idea.

    However, it’s a lot harder to bump up the size of a default-superscript ® (requiring “manual” baseline shift), than it is to reduce the size of a default cap-height ® by using a menu command. 

    Also, when the default-superscript ® is set as a mice-type legal notice, it ends up a mere speck.

    So it is the potential difficulties of making the minor use satisfactory that mitigate against the default-superscript.

    In my experience setting editorial commercial text, the major use was always accompanied by the minor use—so the minor status was about size, not frequency.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,630
    edited April 2021
    I used to design audiobook packages, so I used that all the time. We called it "P in a circle". :smile:  I made a special font that had it since almost no fonts included them in the '90s.
  • And also make sure you catch 267E: ♾. The ideogramm is needed (at least) in colophones of editions which are printed on acid-free paper.

  • And also make sure you catch 267E: ♾
    Not to be confused with 1F636!
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,098
    “P in a circle”—not bad, Mark, but it would be hard to find a nerdier punchline than “1F636”!
  • Here’s what I have been doing with De Vinne, since obviously the original did not have custom designs for these.
    I was undecided about the size and also if the circle line should be monotonal: in the end I did the line slightly modulated across the three width variants.
    But now that Mark remarked the appropriate size for ®, I think I will either do a superscript custom design, maybe keeping the all-caps one as an alternative (but will it ever be used at full caps size?), as Christopher underlined, I am growing accustomed at fine-tuning the superscript elements according to intended optical size.

    P.S. But are those (™, ®) to be considered "superscript" (above caps line) or should they align as "numerators"?
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,863
    From a legal convention perspective, I would say the use of the registered and trademark symbols in your second example, Nick, is probably incorrect.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,098
    Textually or typographically?
  • Thomas Phinney said:

    What then-Adobe IP lawyer Donna Kolnes drilled into me and the type team repeatedly back in the 90s and 00s was that the ® or ™ had to appear with the first or most prominent use of the trademark.
    It’s worth noting that this might or might not be conventional wisdom, but at the time it was the policy of Adobe’s legal leadership — i.e. not a legal requirement, but a matter of balancing legal risk with the visual pollution that comes with it. A company could just as easily decide that legal bugs (e.g. ®) need never be used with some or all trademarks, and that the impact on trademark violation and enforcement is acceptable. Some companies bug every single instance of a trademark! Insanity.
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 1,366
    It amuses and irks me in equal measure that the aggressive branding of my university's recent rebrand campaign splashes the tagline ALL FOR THE COMMON GOOD everywhere, never failing to include a little TM. Invoking the concept of the common good as our mission while making sure legalistic propriety is asserted gives me conceptual whiplash.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,356
    @Thomas Phinney But what if A Taste of HeartSmart Cooking had a  on the cover of the booklet?
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,632
    I should think you wouldn’t necessarily need it anywhere else, by that logic.

    Then again, if somebody wants to treat the cover as a separate entity from the interior, that wouldn’t shock me. I’m not trying to be super didactic.

    But I still believe that designing your ® differently just to make it work more easily in footnotes, and less easily/worse everywhere else, is wacky for most normal fonts.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,098
    edited April 2021
    What Ray said—the title was on the cover. 
    I was following the manuscript with regards to the text, and the practice was standard with the agency and approved by its clients, blue chip Canadian companies with lawyers on staff.


    At any rate, there do seem to be two standards here, no matter how wacky* the legacy practice is. A survey of MyFonts’ top 50 bestsellers shows 27 have cap-height ®, including most of the old classics such as Helvetica and Optima. Some even have superscripted © as default, but that’s clearly a mistake.

    *Except when discussing it at Typedrawers!
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,630
    edited April 2021
    I think I adopted the ® superscript practice after studying Adobe fonts. Looking through some fonts from different sources, such as Bitstream, Monotype, and Apple, I see that the ® and © are both cap height. So it seems there are differing approaches.

    Trying to sort (ha!) this out, I perused some old ATF and Linotype specimen books. To my surprise, these symbols were practically nonexistent. The closest I got were some timetable characters in a Linotype catalog. It made me wonder if ® and © (and ™) are relatively recent (post metal type) additions as standard typographic characters.
  • Well, the reason I had trouble finding ® and © in old metal type catalogs is because they are relatively recent additions. ® was introduced in the U.S. in 1946. © has existed since 1909 in the U.S., but not for published works until 1954. The type catalogs I looked at were all older than 1950s.

    So I looked at some later photocomposition books for Linofilm and Berthold. Linofilm shows them both at cap height. Berthold provided both in either cap height or superscript.

    I still think it's better for the ® to be superscripted by default for most common usage, but it may be even better to provide both cap height (default) and superscripted (via sups) forms. 
    Thanks much for the research, Mark! :-)
    I was inclined to second your option two here, but wondering whether the ® is actually used in caps-height. It surely makes sense to have it quite large as a superscript when your font intended optical use is at text sizes, but I see here (I am still using Lucida on my Mac) it seems almost all-caps.

    And my question went unnoticed, I think: are these (™, ®) to be considered "superscript" (above caps line) or should they align as "numerators" with Caps Height?
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,630
    I align them with the cap height.
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