906.4 Typeface, Typefont, Lettering, Calligraphy, and Typographic Ornamentation
As a general rule, typeface, typefont, lettering, calligraphy, and typographic ornamentation are not registrable. 37 C.F.R. § 202.1 (A), (E). These elements are mere variations of uncopyrightable letters or words, which in turn are the building blocks of expression. See id. The Office typically refuses claims based on individual alphabetic or numbering characters, sets or fonts of related characters, fanciful lettering and calligraphy, or other forms of typeface. This is true regardless of how novel and creative the shape and form of the typeface characters may be.
• Felicia Frost creates a font called “Pioneer Living” that evokes historical “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters. The registration specialist will refuse to register this font because it is a building block of writing.
• Calliope Cash creates a textile fabric consisting of a blue and white vertically striped grass cloth and a traditional Chinese proverb. Each character is painted on a separate stripe in standard, unembellished calligraphy. The registration specialist will refuse to register this fabric design because the calligraphy consists of standard Chinese characters, and the simple arrangement of characters on vertical stripes and the choice of grass cloth does not add sufficient creativity to warrant registration.
There are some very limited cases where the Office may register some types of typeface, typefont, lettering, or calligraphy, such as the following:
• Pictorial or graphic elements that are incorporated into uncopyrightable characters or used to represent an entire letter or number may be registrable. Examples include original pictorial art that forms the entire body or shape of the typeface characters, such as a representation of an oak tree, a rose, or a giraffe that is depicted in the shape of a particular letter.
• Typeface ornamentation that is separable from the typeface characters is almost always an add-on to the beginning and/or ending of the characters. To the extent that such flourishes, swirls, vector ornaments, scrollwork, borders and frames, wreaths, and the like represent works of pictorial or graphic authorship in either their individual designs or patterned repetitions, they may be protected by copyright. However, the mere use of text effects (including chalk, popup papercraft, neon, beer glass, spooky-fog, and weathered-and-worn), while potentially separable, is de minimis and not sufficient to support a registration.
The Office may register a computer program that creates or uses certain typeface or typefont designs, but the registration covers only the source code that generates these designs, not the typeface, typefont, lettering, or calligraphy itself. For a general discussion of computer programs that generate typeface designs, see Chapter 700, Section 723.
To register the copyrightable ornamentation in typeface, typefont, lettering, or calligraphy, the applicant should describe the surface decoration or other ornamentation and should explain how it is separable from the typeface characters. The applicant should avoid using unclear terms, such as “typeface,” “type,” “font,” “letters,” “lettering,” or similar terms.