The Circle and Triangle in AA


Overview/Background

The triangle in a circle design was used by Alcoholics Anonymous as a logo on their literature for many years, but the use of this logo came into controversy in the late 1980s and was stopped soon after. Click here for a good overview of how and why the practice stopped. This summary was written by a person who served as Delegate during that period.

Use of this design has not been exclusive to AA, for example this centuries old building used it as part of its dome. See also the comment provided by contributor Mitchell.


Early Policies

As described in the summary mentioned above, prior to the late 1980s AAWS commonly allowed jewelry and trinket sellers to use the circle and triangle design for their products.

Supporting evidence for this description of AAWS policy can be found on the first page of the Legal Review, specifically the comments regarding exhibits 001 and 005.


Things Change

In late 1988, AAWS filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to register a number of trademarks and service marks. The registrations were completed by September and October of 1989. You may view copies of the US PTO documents issued to AAWS here.

The Finance section of Quarterly reports from GSO in 1988 indicated that legal activities were underway, reporting that legal expenses were more extensive than expected and that legal action was to be taken with respect to trademarks.

Although there is no supporting evidence presented here, it is believed that during this time period AAWS was also actively pursuing their requests for medallion and other trinket companies to cease using the circle and triangle logos.


AA Goes to Court

Early in the summer of 1990, AAWS filed suit to force Frames of Mind to cease using the circle and triangle design on their products. AAWS also asked to have the defendants pay all court costs and tripled damages. The Complaint filed with the court can be viewed here.

Additional trial documents can be viewed here:

  • First Interrogatories
  • Notice to Produce
  • Letter to Defendant
  • The Court stipulation of the settlement agreement

    Some of the expense of this litigation was reported by GSO in an August 1990 Quarterly Report. As the case was not settled until late July, it is likely this figure did not reflect the complete costs.

    Late in July, 1990 this first trial resulted in a Settlement Agreement which required Frames of Mind to have AAWS approve all medallion designs. Some of the approved designs are presented here.


    Additional Litigation

    Subsequent to the settlement presented above, more legal activity occurred. The result of a 1992 court case was that AAWS lost the right to approve designs for Frames of Minds' medallions. Although the court documents are not presented here, evidence supporting this conclusion can be seen in the Review of Legal Documents. Look specifically for the reference to the order by Judge Conboy as Exhibit 2.


    Subsequent AAWS/GSB Policy

    In a series of memos and a Box 459 article, AAWS communicated to the Fellowship the changed policy regarding the circle and triangle. The most recent document regarding AAWS policy in this matter is the AAWS Policy on Identifying Marks and Copyrights, formulated in 1994.

    Currently, records at the US PTO indicate that in 1996 AAWS cancelled their rights to all service marks for circle and triangle designs, as well as the trademark for the AA circle and triangle. The trademarks for the plain circle and triangle, as well as for the designs bearing the text "General Service Conference" and "Recovery, Unity, Service" are all still active and assigned to AAWS.


    Documents for Download

    If you would like copies of the documents on this website, you can get them here:

  • All documents presented here 2.7 MB Acrobat file
  • Documents plus related correspondence 7 MB Acrobat file



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    Site last updated on 05Jan2001