Hoefler & Frere-Jones, one of the world’s leading type foundries, is the subject of a $20 milion law suit. Type designer Tobias Frere-Jones has reportedly accused his business partner Jonathan Hoefler of “profound treachery and sustained exploitation of friendship, trust and confidence” over the latter’s alleged failure to transfer 50 per cent of the company to him. Hoefler, through a statement issued on the HTF website, denies the allegations (see below).
The complaint filed at the Supreme Court of New York on January 16, “is an action to enforce an agreement made between Plaintiff Frere-Jones and Defendant Hoefler to become equal owners in The Hoefler Type Foundry, Inc. (“HTF”), presently known and operating as Hoefler & Frere-Jones.”
According the lawsuit, which was first reported by Quartz, Frere-Jones became friends with Hoefler in the mid 1990s while working at Boston foundry The Font Bureau. Hoefler was then running the Hoefler Type Foundry in New York. Frere-Jones claims the pair entered into a verbal agreement in 1999 under which “Frere-Jones would contribute his name, reputation, industry connections and design authority, as well as certain fonts he had already developed [including Whitney]…in exchange for half of Hoefler’s equity in Hoefler Type Foundry and ‘his name on the door’.”
Frere-Jones claims he signed an agreement transferring ownership of the related fonts to HTF for just $10 in 2004 – rights that his complaint alleges were worth $3 million at the time. “Frere-Jones…considered signing the document a ministerial act as part of his performance of the original bargain with Hoefler,” it states.
The complaint goes on to allege that Frere-Jones then repeatedly asked Hoefler to transfer ownership of half of HTF to him “and Hoefler repeatedly acknowledged his obligation to do so, but each time begged off purportedly due to the pressures of his work and personal life”.
The suit states that in early 2012, Hoefler told Frere-Jones he would complete their deal as soon as the foundry launched its online type service, The Cloud.
The launch date was postponed until July 1 2013, after which Frere-Jones claims the pair agreed to complete the deal on July 31. When he approached Hoefler, however, he was allegedly told: “Stop it. I’m working on it. Stop hassling me.” On October 21, Frere-Jones claims Hoefler “explicitly reneged” on their verbal agreement.
He is now seeking $20 million in damages from Hoefler and a declaration that he owns 50 percent of HTF.
Neither Hoefler or Frere-Jones has provided any further comment as yet. To read the full complaint, click here.
UPDATE: The following statement has been released by HTF: “Last week, designer Tobias Frere-Jones, a longtime employee of The Hoefler Type Foundry, Inc. (d/b/a “Hoefler & Frere-Jones”), decided to leave the company. With Tobias’s departure, the company founded by Jonathan Hoefler in 1989 will become known as Hoefler & Co.
“Following his departure, Tobias filed a claim against company founder Jonathan Hoefler. Its allegations are not the facts, and they profoundly misrepresent Tobias’s relationship with both the company and Jonathan. Whether as The Hoefler Type Foundry, Hoefler & Frere-Jones, or Hoefler & Co., our company has always been a great place for designers, which is why it’s always been and will continue to be a great place for design.
It goes without saying that all of us are disappointed by Tobias’s actions. The company will vigorously defend itself against these allegations, which are false and without legal merit. In the meantime, we’re all hard at work, continuing to create the kinds of typefaces that designers have come to expect from us for more than 25 years.”
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