The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Monday, holding that a law prohibiting “disparaging” trademarks violates the First Amendment.
The unanimous Court in Matal v. Tam struck down a provision of the Lanham Act, the main law on trademarks, that barred the Patent and Trademark Office from issuing any trademark protections to marks that “may disparage … persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”
This case concerned a rock band called the “The Slants,” a reference to the racial slur for Asians. When Simon Tam, the band’s Asian-American frontman, tried to register his group’s name with the trademark office, he was told he could not get a valid trademark because the name was offensive to Asians. Before the Court, Tam’s attorneys argued that his intention was to “reclaim” the term “slants” and subvert its offensive potential.
The anti-disparagement provision, 15 USC §1052(a), has rarely had any practical effect, but has come to public notice in recent years as left-leaning advocates and public officials sought to use it to invalidate “offensive” trademarks. Most prominently, the Washington Redskins football team, who have twice had their trademark protections revoked for having a name that “disparages” American Indians.
Originally published by Breitbart.