Government Can't Refuse Disparaging Trademarks, Supreme Court Rules

Posted June 20, 2017

When NPR asked Tam in January how he felt about Synder potentially benefiting from his lawsuit, he said, "We've been so obsessed with punishing villains like Dan Snyder, we don't realize that there is this impact on bystanders".

"This journey has always been much bigger than our band: it's been about the rights of all marginalized communities to determine what's best for ourselves", he said.

"The Supreme Court has vindicated First Amendment rights not only for our The Slants, but all Americans who are fighting against paternal government policies that ultimately lead to viewpoint discrimination".

The ruling means offensive trademarks can no longer be denied, even for names that intend to disparage individuals or groups of people, said Megan Carpenter, dean at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and an expert on trademark law. A slew of local (and not-so-local) politicians want the name changed. "Language and culture are powerful forms of expression and we are elated to know that the Supreme Court of the United States agree".

The Supreme Court also ruled on another free speech case on Monday, striking down a North Carolina law banning convicted sex offenders from Facebook and other social media services that play a vital role in modern life. After also losing in lower court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the federal circuit in Washington ruled 9-3 previous year that the law barring offensive trademarks is unconstitutional. During the legal fight, attorneys for the band said the issue was protecting free speech.

The Slants went to court after being denied trademark registration for a name they chose as an act of "reappropriation" - adopting a term used by others to disparage Asian Americans and wearing it as a badge of pride.

The band, called the Slants, argued that the name doesn't fall under the disparagement provision. A second application was rejected in 2011. But the High Court said trademarks are private speech protected by the First Amendment. The Patent and Trademark Office petitioned in April 2016 for consideration by the Supreme Court.

The Redskins filed an amicus brief supporting the Slants. The case is now in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, pending the Supreme Court's decision in the Slants case. It's an aggravating win for a team that most certainly hasn't engendered any goodwill, but it's a clear victory for the First Amendment nonetheless.

"After an excruciating legal battle that has spanned almost eight years, we're beyond humbled and thrilled to have won this case at the Supreme Court", Tam wrote Monday.

The justices were unanimous in saying that the 71-year-old trademark law barring disparaging terms infringes free speech rights guaranteed in the Constitution's First Amendment.

The case has drawn intense interest as it focused on the rights of free speech enshrined in the First Amendment of the USA constitution, at a time of heightened racial tensions in the country.