Character counts: How The Northern Block resolved a copyright dispute

Character counts: How The Northern Block resolved a copyright dispute
The Northern Block

With branding, the devil is in the details. Typefaces, one of the main aspects of any business’s branding, not only convey a brand’s message but also silently speak to a brand’s personality. Choosing the right one can communicate your brand’s values, help to build trust, and they can even have the potential to influence purchasing decisions. 

Founded by design expert and creative, Jonathan Hill, The Northern Block is a type foundry that has been helping businesses curate their brand identity through the production of award-winning typefaces since 2006. The Northern Block work with household names such as Lego, Disney, EA Sports and Vauxhall to create custom fonts for brand owners to support their marketing and design teams. The Northern Block also partner with industry-leading technology companies such as Adobe and Monotype, this partnership broadens their reach, giving freelancers and small businesses the opportunity to buy and use their fonts. 

Jonathan says:

The work we do can be quite complex in nature. Designing a typeface can involve creating hundreds, if not thousands of characters that can support languages across multiple countries and continents. We rely heavily on partnerships to distribute our fonts as they have a wider field of customers and expertise, it helps a small company like us to get the exposure we need.

Fueled by the new strategic partnerships, the business blossomed, helping them gain a foothold in a growing market. Unfortunately, during this period of growth, the business faced an unexpected legal problem, one that would jeopardise the business’ future. 

A senior member of The Northern Block claimed the intellectual property rights to several popular typefaces when they left the business. To resolve the dispute, Jonathan turned to the intellectual property team at Harper James. Intellectual Property Partner, Lindsay Gledhill reviewed the evidence and devised a strategy to help the business. Lindsay negotiated with the other business’ lawyers and advised The Northern Block when the time and the offer on the table were right to accept. 

At the same time, Lindsay worked alongside the Employment team to draft employment contracts that give The Northern Block the right level of protection going forward. This left Jonathan free to focus on developing a new – and superior – collection of up-to-date fonts.

Highlighting what it was like to work with our Intellectual Property team, Jonathan comments:

Everybody we have worked with at Harper James so far has their own individual qualities. Lindsay’s ability to quickly identify and understand how our business operates was invaluable. Emily has been great at summarising the aspects of the law and how it applies to our business and Tom has an amazing understanding of how tech businesses like ours work. It’s been refreshing working with a team of legal experts who understand our business thoroughly and genuinely care for us as clients.

Intellectual Property Partner, Lindsay Gledhill says:

I take pleasure in working with clients like Jonathan and the team at The Northern Block, simply because their story is inspirational and it’s great to work with people who are very passionate about their craft. This was a challenging case and Jonathan was inspirational in his response – focusing relentlessly on the creative future of the business whilst we took care of the litigation. We often warn clients who get drawn into litigation that the biggest single challenge is not the costs, it’s the distraction from the business’ roadmap. Jonathan showed leadership throughout, keeping his eyes on the next stage of The Northern Block’s journey, and that has paid off, with a fantastic collection of fonts now accepted by Adobe and ready to go. I look forward to seeing The Northern Block continue to go from strength to strength as they move into this next phase of growth!

Post-dispute, the future is bright for The Northern Block – they’re venturing further into the global market and are actively seeking opportunities to become a truly independent business.

The situation we faced has helped us become more resilient and has put us on a much stronger footing. Having well drafted contracts gives us the confidence to hire more staff and enter into agreements with businesses across the world, knowing our best interests are protected. Currently, we’re working on typefaces that can support Arabic, helping us create a presence in the Middle East. We’ve also commissioned an expert to help us create fonts that can support Indic lettering, which would put us in good stead for working with clients in that region.

About our expert

Lindsay Gledhill

Lindsay Gledhill

Intellectual Property Partner
Lindsay is an Intellectual Property Partner at Harper James. She has specialised in intellectual property exploitation and dispute resolution since 1997. She trained and qualified in Cambridge’s top intellectual property firm during the 'dot com boom', then spent four years at top 50 firm, Walker Morris.

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