Federal Government Cannot Ban Disparaging Trademarks

Okay, this is not the case involving the NFL football team from Washington, D.C., but it’s related. A young man named Simon Tam is the leader of an all-Asian-American band named “The Slants.” (They got the idea for their name from asking their friends about what Asians have in common, and they replied “slanted eyes.”)

slants
The Slants

Simon applied for a federal trademark for his band name, but the Trademark Office refused because a federal law prohibits “disparaging” trademarks. The Trademark Office view the term “slants” as disparaging toward Asians. Simon sued and won. The Supreme Court struck down the federal law as unconstitutional because it discriminated based on viewpoint, i.e., that the law allowed ‘nice’ trademarks but not ‘mean’ ones. That same federal law also prohibits “scandalous” and “immoral” trademarks, but those bans are probably also unconstitutional after this case.

A more detailed discussion of this case is here.

Case: Matal v. Tam, No. 15-1293 (U.S. June 19, 2017) (opinion here)

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