High Court Says Offensive TM Ban Is Unconstitutional


An Asian-American rock group has won their ongoing legal battle to register the name of their band, The Slants, as a trademark.

In 2014, the Patent and Trademark Office canceled the team's registrations after five Native Americans said that the name was offensive. "The Government has an interest in preventing speech expressing ideas that offend".

The ruling could benefit the NFL's Washington Redskins, whose trademark was canceled based on the same law in a separate proceeding.

Most prominently, the Washington Redskins football team, who have twice had their trademark protections revoked for having a name that "disparages" American Indians.

Owner Dan Snyder said he was "thrilled" by the ruling, and lawyer Lisa Blatt said it resolves the team's dispute and vindicated its position.

In September 2016, the Supreme Court announced it would hear the similar case concerning The Slants, which indirectly was a win for the Redskins franchise on its own pending trademark battle. The decision is likely to improve the Redskins' chances of retaining their trademark.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a concurring opinion, said the government can regulate speech only in narrow, already established areas such as fraud, defamation and incitement.

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Slants founder Simon Tam said his goal was to reclaim a derisive slur and transform it into a badge of ethnic pride. A federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., delayed making a ruling while waiting for the Supreme Court to rule in the Slants case. The band challenged the rejection as a violation of free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, winning at the appeals court level before the government appealed to the high court.

The trademark office said in 2011 that registering The Slants trademark would violate the 70-year-old Lanham Trademark Act, which bars registration of any trademark that "may disparage. persons living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute". And the justices managed to split 4-4 as to why that law is unconstitutional.

With the Left feverishly attempting to squash unwelcome speech on college campuses, with the president of the United States musing about tightening libel laws, with prominent liberals asserting that so-called hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment, free speech in America at least has one reliable friend - the Supreme Court of the United States.

A statement issued in the name of Blackhorse and four other Native American petitioners called the high court's ruling narrow: "It focused exclusively on whether the disparagement provision of the law was constitutional".

The court's ruling in an unrelated case struck down part of the trademark law that bars a trademark on disparaging or offensive terms.

Justice Neil Gorsuch took no part in the case, which was argued before he joined the court.