How similar can a logo be?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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How similar can a logo be?

If I’m planning on taking a current business
logo but change the main words, but with
similar layout and text, will I face legal
troubles? Also would I need to trademark my
new logo? It won’t be exactly the same at all,
the words are very different but it will be
obvious that the first logo was used as
inspiration. Thanks

Asked on October 4, 2016 under Business Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

If it is "obvious" that the first logo as used as inspiration, you will most likely be infringing on (violating) their trademark rights and opening yourself up to a lawsuit. Only the owner of a trademark has the right to control who can make "derivative" works--logos or trademarkes based on it. A recognizable modified logo is almost by definition a violation of their rights. 
In answer to your question, it should *not* be recognizable--i.e. it should *not* be similar. Develop your own logo, to avoid potentially ruinously expensive legal problems later--which problems would extent to having to destroy all materials with the logo and refraining from its use, as well as paying monetary compensation. 
You *should* register a trademark for your logo, once you have an original design: while registering is not strictly necessary, it does enhance the protection for a valuable asset of yours.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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