Supreme Court Says Gov’t Can’t Refuse Disparaging Trademarks Like ‘Redskins’

(Forbes) The law used by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to prevent the Washington Redskins from registering trademarks in and relating to the word “Redskins” and the logos used by the team has been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. An opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito states that the law precluding the registration of offensive marks, such as “Redskins,” is improper under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Supreme Court Says Gov't Can’t Refuse Disparaging Trademarks Like 'Redskins'The Supreme Court’s opinion includes the Court’s position that it is “far fetched to suggest that the content of a registered mark is government speech, especially given the fact that if trademarks become government speech when they are registered, the Federal Government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently.”

That opinion came in the case of Matal, Interim Director, United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Tam, which reviewed a petition submitted by the lead singer of the rock group “The Slants” concerning the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s denial of a trademark application for the band’s name, claiming that the band’s name was found to disparage a racial or ethnic group. The case is very similar to that of the Redskins, an NFL franchise that has been fighting for its own registrations in the face of the allegation that its team name and logos are disparaging to Native Americans.

In 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board revoked six federal trademark registrations belonging to the Washington Redskins, a ruling which was affirmed by a federal judge in 2015. Obviously, revocation of the federal registrations did not halt the team’s use of “Redskins” since those decisions, but it did erase important protections that serve to cause many individuals and corporations to file for such protections in the first place, including but not limited to providing for favorable remedies to federal registration holders — i.e. the right to sometimes receive an injunction against wrongful use and enhanced statutory damages….

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