Supreme Court strikes down law blocking disparaging trademarks

Remigio Civitarese
Giugno 19, 2017

In June 2014, the United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled six federal trademark registrations for the Redskins, saying the nickname is "disparaging to Native Americans" and can not be trademarked under federal law that prohibits trademark protection on offensive or disparaging language.

The Supreme Court on Monday sided with Asian-American dance-rock band The Slants in striking down a provision in trademark law that banned the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) from registering disparaging names.

The ruling is a victory for the Asian-American rock band called the Slants, but the case was closely watched for the impact it would have on the separate dispute involving the Washington football team. A federal appeals court in Washington later said the law barring offensive trademarks is unconstitutional.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused in 2011 to grant the name government protection, citing a federal law that forbids issuing trademarks that may disparage people "or bring them into contempt or disrepute".

The outcome is likely to affect the legal case of the Washington Redskins, whose trademark registration was revoked in 2014 under the same disparagement clause.

The Supreme Court says the government can't refuse to register trademarks that are considered offensive.

Justice Elena Kagan asked whether the First Amendment rule that prohibits the government from discriminating against disfavored views applies to the trademark's ban on "bad" trademarks. The Redskins also contend their name honors American Indians, but the team has faced decades of legal challenges from Indian groups that say the name is racist.

But in a unanimous vote, the Supreme Court said that law violates free expression.

In 2015, Tam won a case in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the court after arguments were heard in the case and did not participate in the decision.

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