LOGO DESIGN: HOW TO AVOID INFRINGEMENT
Updated: Mar 10
The density of capitalistic competition is likely higher today than it has ever been, which is why the importance of creating a prominent logo is equally heightened.
Having a unique logo that people notice is not just about standing out. The often-overlooked significance of this is avoiding infringement.
Resembling the visual branding of your competition can cost you recognition, clients, and even dollars and cents if they feel your logo ripped theirs off. By following these steps you can learn to avoid these troubles to great effect!
1. RESEARCH YOUR COMPETITION
Logo design is first come, first served. The original shoe company out there might be lucky enough to use a shoe as their logo, but every one that comes after will have to get creative or be labeled a copycat.
In 2021, your brand is not going to be the first of its kind. Sorry for the bad news. On the bright side, this presents an opportunity for creativity, and you know who loves creativity?
Take some time to look into your competition’s branding and logos. Write off what they have done; those aren’t options. You may be trying to top them in the same field, but you’re not going to do that by topping them with their own logo remastered.
Consumers latch onto a fresh, clever take on something they’ve seen a hundred times before and an understanding of what has been done will help you achieve what hasn’t.
This is why every logo design project should start with competition research, and a graphic artist that jumps right to the design process might not be the best choice to work with. They may give you an absolutely stunning logo without ever realizing your leading competitor has essentially the same thing. Using such a design would reflect poorly on you and put you at risk of a lawsuit.
Steering away from any techniques and imagery already in use in your field will present you in a positive light to your clients and keep you safe from a trademark infringement case at the hands of slighted competitors.
2. CREATE YOUR OWN IMAGERY
While many view a logo that stands out as something that’s just good for business, a dependable graphic designer takes it as a practical opportunity to protect their client legally.
Repurposing images, clip-art, or any graphic content found online should always be avoided. When it comes to pre-made icons, emblems, and the like, there is often no telling where the digital materials came from or what they are available for. That is why you will never go wrong by opting against using them for your professional branding.
These considerations are so often unspoken, so it is hardly anyone’s fault for thinking they can take an image they downloaded for free, put it with their company name, and call it their logo. However, I guarantee you see at least one such logo any day you go on social media.
Unfortunately, logo copyright violation occurs plenty without people noticing, but that is not a reason to buy in. There is always the possibility that the damaged party will notice and pursue legal action.
Let’s say the general public notices instead of a trademark owner, your reputation is tarnished and you have to work to win people back.
And perhaps you can confirm that the icon you found is free for commercial use. What then? Let me put it this way:
How would you feel about hiring a realtor whose logo you recognize as the first result of a ‘flower art’ Google search?
That said, if you would like a flower logo, you or a graphic designer should create one! Enjoy the freedom to create something original. Any imagery included in your logo should be an original work that does not copy that of another company.
3. MAKE YOUR LOGO INFRINGEMENT-PROOF ALSO
Just as you want to avoid stepping on toes when designing your logo, you want to prevent it from happening to you.
Of course, you can always trademark and copyright your brand materials, but this can get expensive, and if your logo is designed properly, you will likely never have to.
By making your logo unique to your business and your business alone, you lock it into use by you only.
Let’s say you’re designing a logo for a company called ‘Heightened Hiking Equipment’ which sells gear for extreme hiking and climbing. Sure, a mountain gets the point across, but if you just design a cool mountain icon and throw it above the business name, you’re left with basic clip art if someone subtracts the company name from the whole image.
If you instead take inspiration from the word ‘heightened’ and design a logo of an increasing bar-graph melding into the mountain from left to right, who other than ‘Heightened Hiking Equipment’ can use it?
Making a logo that protects itself from infringement essentially comes down to a test of, “Is this logo desirable only to me and my company?”
If someone else can replace your company name under the icon with their own, it might be worth going back to the drawing board.
One way to make this impossible for someone to do is to make the design and text one and the same. Take my logo for example: the silhouette of a peak is stamped directly into the word ‘logo’.
To be blunt: it’s an anti-theft device. What company other than Logo Further LLC has use for an image of the word ‘logo’ with a mountain built into the negative space?
If you’re designing a logo that is so specific to your company that no one else can use it as theirs, chances are you’re not pulling anything from them either, and yours is thus perfectly safe and legal.
Consider what it is that makes your company singular in nature, whether literal or implied, and emphasize that in your imagery. This will make the logo useful to and representative of you alone, enabling it to serve you most productively.
A logo must be designed such that it does not infringe on existing brand trademarks and can likewise not be infringed upon. This is made possible by a thorough examination of one’s competition and due consideration of the originality of one’s design.