Published: Tue, June 20, 2017
Local | By Ada Griffith

Justices say government can't refuse disparaging trademarks

The Supreme Court declared on Monday that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to refuse to register trademarks that can be considered offensive, according to Politico.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear The Slants' case previous year, after a lower court declared the anti-disparagement clause in trademark law unconstitutional in 2015.

The Slants' frontman Simon Tam and his three Portland, Oregon-based bandmates are Asian-Americans who say they chose the name to re-appropriate the racial slur, and strip it of its hateful meaning.

The case before the justices concerned a trademark registration application for a band called The Slants.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled 2-1 a year ago that Hutton should be resentenced.

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the law permitting the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to turn down "disparaging" trademarks violates the First Amendment.

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

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The decision was not made on the merits of "Redskins" - it was about a band with Asian-American members called "The Slants" - but the ruling negates the trademark office's ruling on the Redskins case. Some were thrown out for omitting zip codes, using cursive writing instead of print, or writing in the current date instead of a birth date, they said, disenfranchising thousands of voters in recent elections, especially minorities.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office appealed that ruling to the high court in April, and the justices granted certiorari in September. The clause reaches any trademark that disparages any person, group, or institution, and the Court views this as overly broad. A lower court put the Redskins' dispute on hold pending the outcome of the band's case. To do so, he wrote, "is viewpoint discrimination in the sense relevant here: Giving offense is a viewpoint".

"The commercial market is well stocked with merchandise that disparages prominent figures and groups, and the line between commercial and non-commercial speech is not always clear, as this case illustrates", Alito added.

"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. It is likely to be remanded back to the original district court to re-examine it based on the recent Supreme Court ruling.

1933: George P. Marshall changes the name of his football team from the Boston Braves to the Boston Redskins to avoid having the same nickname as the baseball team. "For this reason, we must exercise great caution before extending oru government-speech precedents".

"This is true of services that benefit everyone, like police and fire protection, as well as services that are utilized by only some, e.g., the adjudication of private lawsuits and the use of public parks and highways", the ruling states.

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