5
May/11

Contested: A Law Firm Picks Its Logo


This is a guest post by my partner, Peter Sloane:

Like most all law firms, we at Leason Ellis have a name comprised of partner surnames. Whether or not the decision to adopt the name was originally made to comply with state bar regulations or comport with custom is of no moment since goodwill has built up to the point where any name change now could prove costly.  As a trademark law firm, though, we feel like we have a special need to stand apart from the crowd. Plus, we love brands! So it seemed natural for us to look to adopt a logo to use in conjunction with our name.

Initially, we started working with a designer, who sketched out various logos for us to consider. But none of the designs worked for us and the choices were far too few.  This quickly led to frustration on both sides.

Around the same time, I heard about a website called LogoTournament.com, which advertises the ability to get 50 to over 200 logos designed in just a few days.  According to its website,  you can “start a logo contest for only $275 and watch the logos roll in the same day.”

I found the idea of a logo contest intriguing, because it would solve the limitations of working with a single designer (or even a single design firm). As a practical matter, designers can create only so many different designs for a client to consider. Plus, they are generally quite expensive.

So, we took the plunge and posted a one week contest with LogoTournament.com.   Although we posted the reward above the minimum, it was less than what we would have spent with any directly retained designer. And the time spent filling out the questionnaire, which allows designers to understand the client and its needs in adopting a new logo, was relatively minimal. Sure enough, within hours of posting the contest, we had logos arriving in our inbox for us to consider.

One of the great things about LogoTournament.com is the real time interactivity between the client and the designers, who are located all over the world.   The client is able to rank the designs according to their favorites and post written comments for all the designers to see.   This immediate feedback allows designers to hone in on designs that work and disregard those that do not appeal to the client.

To be fair,  some of the designs we received were trite.   But there were some real gems among the roughly several hundred designs submitted.    The more thought that is put into the initial questionnaire, and the quicker and more concise the comments made during the contest (and possibly the higher the reward), the more likely that the designers will be inspired to create logos that meet client expectations.

In the end, after some spirited internal debates, we chose the tree and apple design that we use as our logo today. As a patent firm, it speaks to the spirit of insight that led Sir Isaac Newton to develop the theory of gravity.  As a trademark firm, it is a distinctive design which designates our services and sets us apart from the practices of others. It also makes for a great call sign on Twitter .

As it turns out, the designer who created the logo is an individual located in the Philippines.  Now ask yourself the odds that a law firm in White Plains, New York would ever connect with a designer located halfway across the world in the days before the internet.   Technology today is truly amazing.

Admittedly, design contests like LogoTournament.com are not without controversy.  The AIGA, a professional association for design, has a position on such spec work.   In particular, AIGA believes that professional designers should be compensated fairly for the value of their work.  In response, LogoTournament.com has a points system for designers to avoid a winner-take-all situation.

Furthermore,  some people believe, perhaps rightly, that design contests are ripe for plagiarism.  Even though, as part of the contest rules, the designer warrants that the design is original, and assigns all rights in the design to the client, to provide us with additional confidence before using the logo, we undertook a full design search.  If you are not a trademark lawyer like me, and if you end up participating in a design competition (like LogoTournament.com), I strongly recommend that you consult with a trademark law firm (like Leason Ellis).

Since we like to practice what we preach, we obtained a registration of the logo as a service mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (3,844,312). Even though the Copyright Office is generally averse to registering logos, the design is original enough that we obtained a copyright registration for it (VA0001700803).   The framed registration certificate for the service mark now hangs proudly on one of our walls like a work of art (the logo also makes a special appearance in the monster print created for us by famed graphic designer Stefan Bucher.

Firms and companies that lack a distinguishing design should consider adopting one.  Websites such as LogoTournament.com (and there are others) now offer a quick and inexpensive (not to mention fun) way to do so.

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