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Frutiger, Myriad, Slimbach

Bill Troop explains the Myriad/Frutiger controversy.

The present design patent system is practically useless as the examiner seems to take the case as presented, regardless of merit. But had we a system such as the German one that found Segoe was virtually identical to Frutiger, then Myriad would probably also be considered identical to Frutiger. No less an authority than Frutiger himself considered it so.

Adobe had what seemed like a good idea: Myriad was supposed to be a completely characterless sans serif - that's why two designers, Robert Slimbach and Carol Twombly, were assigned to it. The reasoning was that the two designers would cancel out each others' egos.

Very good reasoning, but it didn't take sufficient account either of Robert's ego or his vampyrism. As the project moved on, Carol had less and less input on the design and, as she has remarked, the design grew more and more to look like Frutiger. (Amusingly enough Frutiger and even Segoe are cited in the most recent patent applications for Myriad.)

It's an astonishing thing but for years very few people, other than Frutiger, noticed that Myriad was so close to Frutiger that it had to have been traced over it. You couldn't come that close without tracing. Frutiger complained vehemently, and was rewarded by the famous seven-page letter from Fred Brady of Adobe, explaining all the various ways in which Myriad was not a copy of Frutiger.

Who to believe? Brady or Frutiger? Well, of all the non-entities in 20th century type history, Fred Brady is one of the non-est. And of all the masters of 20th century type, Adrian Frutiger is one of the greatest. That's a clue.

In justice to Twombly, it is clear that she was not a willing participant. Carol is not a bad person, unless you think it is bad to choose to remain silent when something bad is unfolding.

The same thing happened, a few years later with Cronos, a knockoff of Volker Kuester's Today Sans Serif. I know that Fred knew about this in advance, but precisely when? I'll never forget the phone call when I suggested to Fred that Adobe should take on Today Sans Serif. Hmmmm, he said. 'Scangraphic? Let me have a look at their specimen book. (Rustle of pages.) Today Sans Serif? Very nice. Well Bill, if you like Today Sans Serif, you're gonna love Robert's new Cronos.'

I have subsequently wondered: was that the moment when he, who I think was technically Robert's manager, discovered that Today and Cronos were one and the same? Or was it a put-on for my benefit.

One thing I'm surer of. When, some time later, I was talking to Carol and pointed out the near identity of Today and Cronos, the way she said, 'Not again!' seemed spontaneous. Carol did not know, until that moment, what had happened.

So there we are. No company has been more active in seeking copyright protection than Adobe. But Adobe's record is so tarnished that I find myself unable to take much interest in font copyright.

Was there another way for Adobe? There was, and they could have taken it, had the font group been possessed of sufficient mettle.

There is the Font Bureau model. Font Bureau has produced numberless superb knock-offs. Each one is impeccably researched and executed, and each one is impeccably sourced.

Font Bureau never stoops to assert that its knockoffs are original, much less worthy of patent. But it makes a superb case, which happens to be largely true, that its knockoffs are substantial improvements, technically, aesthetically, and functionally.

I have been thinking about Font Bureau's model for years, and the more I think about it, the better I think it is. Type cannot and should not be over-protected. The key, as in all else, is honesty.

Frutiger, Myriad, Slimbach
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Luc Devroye ⦿ School of Computer Science ⦿ McGill University Montreal, Canada H3A 2K6 ⦿ lucdevroye@gmail.com ⦿ http://luc.devroye.org ⦿ http://luc.devroye.org/fonts.html