Supreme Court Rules Denying Offensive Trademarks Violates First Amendment

Authorities survey the damage to the Pentagon in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 2001 terror attack

The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Asian-American rock band that was denied a trademark on the grounds that it disparages Asisns and states that federal government's ban on offensive trademark registrations violates the First Amendment.

Supreme Court judge Samuel Alito said the patent office could not refuse to register the group's name because it was deemed disparaging.

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

Tam initiated legal proceedings to challenge the PTO's ruling, which opened up a discussion about the First Amendment itself as well as the role nuance and interpretation could or should play in the PTO's enforcement of the Lanham Act.

Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the Redskins trademark case in October, denying the petition for review before a lower court had a chance to rule on the matter.

The four more "conservative" justices, led by Justice Alito, explained why trademarks don't constitute a subsidy or other type of government program (within which the government can regulate speech), and that the "disparagement clause" doesn't even survive the more deferential scrutiny that courts give "commercial" speech. A federal appeals court in Richmond put the team's case on ice while The Slants went to the highest court in the land.

The Government has an interest in preventing speech expressing ideas that offend.

Despite intense public pressure to change the name, Redskins owner Dan Snyder has refused, saying it "represents honor, respect and pride".


He says he picked his band's moniker in an effort to reclaim a stereotype. Alito also said trademarks are not immune from First Amendment protection as part of a government program or subsidy.

"I am THRILLED!" he said in a statement Monday morning.

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.

The trademark office canceled the football team's lucrative trademarks in 2014 after ruling that the word "Redskins" was an insult to Native Americans.

Redskins attorney Lisa Blatt said the court's decision effectively resolves the Redskins' longstanding dispute with the government.

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

In the Slants case, government officials argued that the law did not infringe on free speech rights because the band was still free to use the name even without trademark protection.

In a filing Monday, the Justice Department defended the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board's decision a year ago to strip the team of protections.

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