Justices say government can't refuse disparaging trademarks

Postado Junho 20, 2017

In a statement released after the ruling, Redskins owner Dan Snyder said, "I am THRILLED!"

An Asian-American rock band called the Slants found itself on the winning side of a Supreme Court case Monday.

"The Supreme Court vindicated the team's position that the First Amendment blocks the government from denying or cancelling a trademark registration based on the government's opinion", the team's lawyer Lisa Blatt said in a statement.

UND retired its controversial Fighting Sioux sports nickname in 2012 after the NCAA deemed it hostile and abusive to Native Americans.

When the government grants a trademark to a business owner, the owner gains the exclusive legal right to use the name on products and merchandise such as T-shirts. 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. The team has kept use of its registrations while the case is under appeal.

The ruling came from the Matal, Interim Director, United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Tam case that the court has been in charge of hearing since September of 2016. The band's lawyers argued that the government can not use trademark law to impose burdens on free speech to protect listeners from offense.

One of the biggest winners of this decision is the Washington Redskins.

The disparagement clause "offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend", Alito wrote. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government's benevolence. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote separately, also for four justices, but on this point the opinions agreed:A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an "egregious form of content discrimination", which is "presumptively unconstitutional".

But when Tam attempted to trademark the name, his application was denied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for violating a section of the Lanham Act, the relevant part of federal trademark law which rejects trademarks "which may disparage ... persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols". Lee was relying on a Supreme Court decision that allowed Texas to ban specialty license plates with the Confederate battle flag.

The Washington Post published a poll in May of 2016 that showed that nine out of 10 Native Americans are not offended by the name.

The government also argued that its duty to buttress trademark holders to take violators to court could mean that government should have full control over the matter.