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Tobias Frere-Jones is Suing Jonathan Hoefler

This news broke yesterday afternoon, but I wanted to let it simmer for a while before commenting. Given that Hoefler & Frere-Jones (H&FJ) is one of the world’s best type foundries (their fonts in use by Nike, the Obama campaign, and numerous other national agencies), I wasn’t sure whether the headlines about one of the founders suing the other were simply sensational and overreacting to something much smaller.

I was wrong.

If you read the actual NYC claims document, it becomes immediately clear that Hoefler intentionally broke his promise of giving Frere-Jones a 50% stake in the company. From the claims document (emphasis mine), starting with #13:

13 . The heart of the proposal was that Frere-Jones would contribute his name, reputation, industry connections and design authority, as well as obtain and assign to HTF the rights to certain fonts he had already developed at Font Bureau (referred to as the “Dowry Fonts”) in exchange for half of the equity in Hoefler’s existing business, HTF.

14 . A critical part of the creation of the new partnership was that Frere-Jones would “have his name on the door.”

One world-class type designer and one savvy businessman, who were friends, going into business together makes perfect sense. However, things get shady when we skip down to #29:

29 . After he signed the Sale and Assignment of Type Fonts, Frere-Jones repeatedly asked Hoefler to complete his part of the bargain and transfer half of the ownership in HTF to him, and Hoefler repeatedly acknowledged his obligation to do so, but each time begged off purportedly due to the pressures of work or his personal life. As a good partner, Frere-Jones respected Hoefler’s wishes.

The most incriminating sections finish with #42-43:

42 . On October 21, 2013, for the first time, Hoefler explicitly reneged on his personal agreement to transfer 50% of HTF to Frere-Jones.

43 . Upon information and belief, Hoefler transferred to his wife, Borsella, the shares that he had promised to Frere-Jones and Hoefler and Borsella are now the owners of 100% of HTF.

Essentially, Hoefler knowingly used Frere-Jones’ reputation, connections, and fonts, without any intention of giving Frere-Jones his 50% of the company. Magnifying the problem, according to #42, Hoefler gave what was supposed to be Frere-Jones’ stake to Mrs. Hoefler, letting the Hoeflers own 100% of Hoefler & Frere-Jones.

Designers across the web are concerned, not only for the fate of the preeminent type foundry, but also for the company’s latest product: Cloud.typography; a way to use H&FJ’s fonts on websites.

And, according to #49 in the claims document, there is real reason to be concerned:

49 . Frere-Jones has suffered damage from the breach in an amount to be determined at trial but not less than $20 million.

In a legal situation similar to that when Eduardo Saverin sued Mark Zuckerberg over Saverin’s share in Facebook, it’s not a stretch to say that nothing good happens when friends sue each other for millions of dollars.

Friday, 17 January 2014