Supreme Court strikes down law prohibiting disparaging trademarks

Supreme Court strikes down law prohibiting disparaging trademarks

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday in Matal v. Tam [SCOTUSblog materials] that a law prohibiting disparaging trademarks is a violates the First Amendment [text]. The Lanham Act [text] provides that no trademark shall be refused registration on account of its nature unless, inter alia, it “[c]onsists of … matter which may disparage … persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) [official website] denied trademark registration to Simon Tam’s band, The Slants [band website], finding the name derogatory to Asian-Americans. In a plurality opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the court held, “that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”

The case is expected to have implications for the Washington Redskins trademark dispute [JURIST news archive]. In June 2014 the USPTO announced that it would cancel six trademark registrations [JURIST report] belonging to the Washington Redskins. Administrative trademark judge Karen Kuhlke cancelled trademarks associated with the team’s name, logo and the name of their cheerleading squad. The Washington Redskins’ name was criticized [JURIST report] by UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, who called for the team to change their name out of respect for the “historical and cultural legacy of the Native Americans in the US.”