Hoefler & Frere-Jones (the world’s best-known font design firm) splits – and shows why you never enter into business without a written agreement and legal advice! In a lawsuit filed in New York, type designer Tobias Frere-Jones claims that his former business partner, Jonathan Hoefler, cheated him of half of the company and tricked him into transferring ownership of several fonts – including the “Whitney” family of fonts, worth over US $3 million. The agreement was never formalized in writing and Hoefler has reportedly refused to do so

Hoefler has denied all the allegations and filed a notice of motion to dismiss Frere-Jones’s complaint on the basis that the allegations are time-barred (that is, made too long after the event, and outside statutory limitation periods). Hoefler has also claimed that Frere-Jones’ signed employment contract clearly stated that Frere-Jones has no equity in the company and is employed as “Principal and Director of Typography”, while a signed "Sale and Assignment of Type Fonts Agreement" reportedly states that Frere-Jones agreed to sell, assign and transfer all right and title of his type fonts for the sum of $10

Important lessons from the case: always bear in mind that “business is business” and don't enter into business (even with family or friends) without working out the details and arrangements first;

  • make sure you discuss what will happen if the partnership or business doesn't work out;
  • always put your agreements in writing; and
  • get your own legal advice before signing a business agreement.

The mini-documentary, Font Men, gives a fascinating glimpse of the world of Hoefler & Frere-Jones before it all went wrong

For advice on business agreements – and particularly agreements relating to intellectual property – contact intellectual property lawyers Adam Simpson and Jules Munro at Simpsons Solicitors.