SCOTUS: ‘The Slants’ Trademark Gets First Amendment Protection

Simon Tam, lead singer of the Asian-American rock group “The Slants,” chose the derogatory term intentionally. Tam wanted to reclaim the racial slur and turn it into a name to be proud of. However, the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) denied registration, calling the group’s mark “disparaging” under trademark law.

On June 19, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the PTO may not reject trademarks on the grounds that they express offensive ideas. Although the government grants trademark registration, the marks themselves are not considered government speech. This means that trademarks do receive protection as free speech under the First Amendment.

The PTO has allowed “positive” marks to be registered while rejecting disparaging marks. The Supreme Court says this is considered viewpoint discrimination – and it is prohibited by the First Amendment. This ruling will no doubt affect similar trademark cases, such as the use of the offensive Washington Redskins mark.

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