Justices Say Law on Offensive Trademarks is Unconstitutional

Curbs on Disparaging Trademarks Thrown Out by US Supreme Court

Curbs on Disparaging Trademarks Thrown Out by US Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Monday, June 19, 2017, struck down part of a law that bans offensive trademarks in a ruling that is expected to help the Washington Redskins in their legal fight over the team name. He unsuccessfully attempted to register the name with U.S. Patent and Trademark Office because the agency said it disparages Asians.

In December 2015, the band prevailed in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, giving The Slants the right to register the name.

The case has drawn intense interest as it focused on the rights of free speech enshrined in the First Amendment of the United States constitution, at a time of heightened racial tensions in the country. Among them is a 64-page brief filed by Pro-Football Inc., piggybacking The Slants case for the Washington Redskins' NFL team, which lost its trademark protection because the team name was considered disparaging.

In its 39-page decision announced by Justice Samuel Alito, the court ruled that the intent of the trademark rule was not to "cleanse commercial speech of any expression likely to cause offense". "It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend".

When the government grants a trademark to a business owner, the owner gains the exclusive legal right to use the name on products and merchandise such as T-shirts. The four more "liberal" justices, led by Justice Anthony Kennedy, would've ended the discussion after finding that the PTO here is engaging in viewpoint discrimination among private speech.

Banzhaf filed a petition to deny the renewal of Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder's Washington radio station, WWXX-FM, over its use of the term "Redskins" on-air to refer to the team.

He says he picked his band's moniker in an effort to reclaim a stereotype. Snyder issued a quick statement after Monday's decision: "I am THRILLED".

The Redskins made similar arguments after the trademark office ruled in 2014 that the name offends American Indians and cancelled the team's trademark.

The provision in the law prohibited the PTO from registering trademarks that may disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute any persons, living or dead.

Redskins attorney Lisa Blatt said in a statement that the team feels "vindicated" by the ruling.

Alito was backed in the majority opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Stephen Breyer. "We found the Trademark Office justifying the denial of rights to people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, and political views, simply because they disagreed with the message of these groups". And the idea that our market will be flooded by people who just want to register marks on a whim is ridiculous. people have to have an established business objective, pay the fees, go through the paperwork and have their information in public.

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