What’s in a name? US Supreme Court Affirms Trademark’s Law on Restriction of Registration of Disparaging Marks Violates Free Speech Provision of the US Constitution.

Under 15 U. S. C. §1052(a), the USPTO may deny registration of a trademark that may “disparage . . . or bring. . . into contemp[t] or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead.” In the Supreme Court case of Matal, Interim Director, United States Patent And Trademark Office v. Tam (U.S. Ct, June 2017), No. 15–1293, 2017 WL 2621315, Simon Tam, lead singer of the rock group “The Slants,” chose this moniker for his band to “reclaim” the term and drain its denigrating force as a derogatory term for Asian persons. Tam sought federal registration of the mark “THE SLANTS” and per 15 U. S. C. §1052(a), the USPTO denied registration. Tam contested the denial of registration through the administrative appeals process, to no avail. He then took the matter to federal court, where the en banc Federal Circuit Court found the disparagement clause facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause.  The United States Supreme Court affirmed the Federal Circuit’s judgment.

By Greg Johnson