SUPREMES: Government Can’t Refuse ‘Offensive’ Trademarks

June 19, 2017 2:48 pm  

Rules disparagement provision in law violates 1st Amendment

(Washington Examiner) – The Supreme Court ruled Monday a disparagement provision of federal trademark law violated the First Amendment in what could be a major win for the Washington Redskins.

In Matal v. Tam, the high court reviewed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to deny a trademark to Asian-American rock band “The Slants,” a name deemed offensive by the government. The Supreme Court decided the trademark office’s effort to enforce the disparagement provision of the Lanham Act was unconstitutional.

“We now hold that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the high court’s opinion. “It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”

Alito’s opinion was joined in part by all of the other justices of the high court, with the exception of Justice Neil Gorsuch, who did not participate in consideration of the case. There was a consensus in favor of the decision and no justice filed a dissent, but the justices all agreed on the final outcome for different reasons.

The Slants’ victory at the Supreme Court on Monday could benefit the Washington Redskins football team’s effort to win its trademark dispute.

The Redskins have been locked in a court battle over whether the team name violates the provision of law struck down by the court Monday. The team’s name is considered a slur toward Native Americans.

The Slants’ case has served as a proxy war in many ways for the Redskins’ case. The Redskins’ intention to let the Slants lead block at the high court irked the band and others who simultaneously view the Slants’ name as part of a movement to promote Asian-American pride and interpret the Redskins’ name as an ethnic slur.

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