Supreme Court strikes down ban on disparaging trademarks

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Slants

The Slants. Photo Courtesy of The Slants.

Developing: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a provision of the Lanham Act that denies registration for “disparaging” trademarks.

The court ruled in an appeal by Simon Shiao Tam, who wants to trademark the name of his Asian-American rock band, the Slants.

The provision “offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend,” Justice Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. wrote in a portion of his opinion (PDF) joined by seven other justices. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch did not take part in the case.

The court struck down a Lanham Act provision known as the “disparagement clause.” It banned registration of a trademark that may disparage “persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”

The decision is good news for Washington’s NFL team, which lost its trademark because its name is disparaging to Native Americans. Its appeal is pending before the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Tam’s group called itself the Slants because it wanted to “reclaim” and “take ownership” of stereotypes about Asians.




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