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‘Letting Go’ of the Circle and Triangle As A Legal Mark


From: Box 459, Volume 39, No. 4, August-September 1993


A triangle, enclosed within a circle, has long been recognized as one symbol of Alcoholics Anonymous. Yet, both the triangle and the circle are among the earliest spiritual signs known to man. To ancient Egyptians, the triangle was a sign of creative intellect; to the Greeks, it meant wisdom. In general, it represents an upward yearning after higher knowledge or spiritual realm.

At the International Convention celebrating AA.’s 20th anniversary, a circle enclosing a triangle was accepted as the symbol of Alcoholics Anonymous. “The circle,” Bill told the A.A.s gathered in St. Louis, “stands for the whole world of A.A., and the triangle stands for A.A.’s Three Legacies of Recovery, Unity and Service. Within our wonderful new world, we have found freedom from our fatal obsession. . . . ”

The symbol was registered as an official A.A. mark in 1955, and was freely used by various A.A. entities, which worked very well for a while. However, by the mid-1980s, there was a growing concern by the members of the Fellowship on the use of the circle and triangle by outside organizations. In keeping with A.A.’s Sixth Tradition, that Alcoholics Anonymous” . . . ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise . .. “, A.A. World Services began efforts in 1986 to prevent the use of the circle and triangle by outside entities, including novelty manufacturers, publishers and treatment facilities. The policy was undertaken with restraint, and only after all attempts at persuasion and conciliation had failed were legal actions considered. In fact, of approximately 170 unauthorized users contacted, only two suits were filed, both of which were settled at a very early stage.

By early 1990, some members of the Fellowship seemed to be saying two things: “we want medallions with our circle and triangle,” while others were saying, “we don’t want our symbol aligned with non A.A. purposes.” The desire of some A.A. members for anniversary chips was addressed by the A.A. World Services and Grapevine Boards in October 1990, when they considered the possibility of producing medallions. The boards felt that tokens and medallions were unrelated to our primary purpose of carrying the A.A. message, and that the matter should be given a thorough airing at the Conference in order to seek a group conscience from the Fellowship. The essence of this decision was relayed to the 1991 General Service Conference in the A.A.W.S. Board’s report.
The 1992 Service Conference began to confront the dilemma by hearing presentations on why we should or should not produce medallions, and the responsibility of A.A.W.S. to protect our trademarks and copyrights from uses that might suggest affiliation with outside sources.

The result was a Conference Advisory Action for the General Service Board to undertake a feasibility study on the possible method by which sobriety chips might be made available to the Fellowship, followed by a report to an ad hoc committee of 1993 Conference delegates.

Following lengthy considerations, the ad hoc committee presented their report and recommendations to the 1993 Conference. After discussion, the Conference approved two of five recommendations that:

  1. the use of sobriety chips/medallions is a matter of local autonomy and not one on which the Conference should record a definite position; and
  2. it is not appropriate for A.A. World Services or the Grapevme to produce or license the production of sobriety chips/medallions.

Among the considerations in the ad hoc committee’s report were the implications of continuing to protect A.A.’s trademarks from use by outside organizations through legal means.

Coincidentally, the A.A.W.S. Board had begun to consider recent developments, culminating in recognition that the prospects of increasingly costly and lengthy litigation, the uncertainty of success, and the diversions from AA.’s primary purpose were too great to justify continuing the protection effort of the circle and triangle.

During the post-Conference meeting of the General Service Board, the trustees accepted A.A.W.S.’s recommendation to discontinue protecting the circle and triangle symbol as one of our registered marks.

By early June, the General Service Board reached substantial unanimity in support of A.A.W.S.’s statement that, consistent with our original purpose to avoid the suggestion of association or affiliation with outside goods and services, Alcoholics Anonymous World Inc. will phase out the “official” or “legal” use of the circle and triangle symbol. A.A.W.S. will continue to resist unauthorized use of our other marks and any attempts to publish A.A. literature without permission.

The triangle within a circle will, of course, always have a special meaning in the hearts and minds of A.A.s, in a symbolic sense, just as do the Serenity Prayer and slogans, which have never had any official status.

“To live in the world without becoming aware of the meaning of the world is like wandering about in a great library without touching the books.”
― Dan Brown


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