Published: Tue, June 20, 2017
USA | By Kelli Rowe

Justices Say Government Can't Refuse Disparaging Trademarks


The Washington Redskins found themselves in a similar predicament in 2014, when the trademark office ruled that the name offends American Indians and canceled the team's trademark.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a 71-year-old trademark law barring disparaging terms infringes free speech rights.

Monday's case involved an Asian-American, Simon Tam, who named his rock band "The Slants".

A co-founder of the American Indian Movement says he's disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court for ruling that that the government can not refuse to register controversial trademarks.

The case has far-reaching implications, most notably in the on-going legal battle by the Washington Redskins to secure a trademark for its controversial team name, the Washington Post reported.

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The team's appeal, also on free speech grounds, was put on hold in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, pending the outcome of The Slants' case.

[N] o matter how the point is phrased, [the] unmistakable thrust [of the government's argument] is this: The Government has an interest in preventing speech expressing ideas that offend.

"After an excruciating legal battle that has spanned almost eight years, we're beyond humbled and thrilled to have won this case at the Supreme Court", Tam said in a statement on Facebook.

The Supreme Court sided with the band, ruling the Lanham Act violates freedom of speech. Alito concluded that these cases apply in circumstances where the government financially supports speech. Well, they're a group a Asian-Americans that purposely owned the racist term and made it a band name.

The request was denied on the ground that it is disparaging to "persons of Asian descent".

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The decision is likely to open the doors for several other companies wishing to use edgier names for their trademarks.

Indian groups opposing the Redskins said the ruling does not change the fact that the name "is a dictionary-defined racial slur".

After a federal court agreed with Tam and his band, the Patent and Trademark Office sued to avoid being compelled to register its name as a trademark.

The government's argument was that trademarks aren't private speech, they're "government speech" because registration of the mark represents a granting of intellectual property rights by the United States. Connell was drawn to Banner's knowledge of high court litigation and strategy, as well as to the First Amendment expertise of Eugene Volokh, UCLA Law's Gary T. Schwartz Distinguished Professor of Law, on whose advice Banner and his students relied.

Redskins attorney Lisa Blatt said the team was "thrilled" with the court's decision.

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