There's different aspects to that, and they're different everywhere on the globe, too.
A "font" as such (the typeface) is not copyrighted or patentable in the USA (surprising, because you can patent every crap in the US), but it is very well copyrighted in most EU countries. Thus, making your own Helvetica font will make Linotype unhappy, but there's not much they can do against it if you're in the USA (as long as you don't use the trademarked name Helvetica!). Doing the same in the EU will make you unhappy instead.
Further, individual characters or the font as a whole can be subject to a design patent (e.g. the Coca Cola font, the Terminator font, or a Klingon font, or a font containing the Toyota brand sign).
The actual "implementation" (the font file on your computer) is copyrighted pretty much everywhere, including the USA. However, whether or not an image representation of the font (bitmap font) is a derived work and/or under the same copyright is, again, something that is debatable and locally different. In the EU, it was ruled some years ago (cannot provide a reference now, sadly) that the bitmap representation of an outline font isn't copyrighted. Which means if I want to use a bitmap font of Calibri, then Microsoft can frown on that, but can't really do anything.
But who can tell what's the most contorted case that could possibly happen in the USA or some other place with dodgy jurisdiction. You might be sued because the Windows EULA, which of course you didn't read, contains a "no bitmap representations of enclosed fonts" clause on page 779.
The safest bet is therefore, as suggested before, to simply use a font that is explicitly "free". You won't risk anything that way in any case.