United States Supreme Court Strikes Down Trademark Ban

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday, June 19, that the band can trademark its name, even though some people see it as racially disparaging. The team is now appealing a federal judge's decision to uphold the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's cancellation of their trademark, because it is a racial slur and disparages Native Americans (and, per this website's house style, is not fit for print).

The decision was a victory for an Asian American dance rock band dubbed The Slants - and, in all likelihood, for the Washington Redskins, whose trademarks were cancelled in 2014 following complaints from Native Americans. He unsuccessfully attempted to register the name with U.S. Patent and Trademark Office because the agency said it disparages Asians.

The ruling strikes down a 1946 measure that barred federal officials from putting disparaging trademarks on a government registry.

"It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle", writes Alito in the opinion. A federal appeals court in Washington later said the law barring offensive trademarks is unconstitutional.

While defending the First Amendment's freedom of speech protection, the justices did not remove all discretion from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He also targeted KNBC-TV and other stations over use of the name on air.

The team's appeal, also on free speech grounds, was put on hold in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, pending the outcome of The Slants' case.

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

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Dan Snyder, the team's owner, has said that the name "represents honor, represents respect, represents pride".

He says he picked his band's moniker in an effort to reclaim a stereotype.

"Cancellation of the football team's trademark would not have made them change their name", Tam said.

"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", Blatt said. Snyder issued a quick response to the decision on Monday: "I am THRILLED".

But when the litigation of the word "redskins" is left to a group like the PTO, the resulting decisions will always say more about that body's own biases than anything else. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a separate opinion and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The same is true for the Redskins, but the team did not want to lose the legal protections that go along with a registered trademark. The band's lawyers argued that the government can not use trademark law to impose burdens on free speech to protect listeners from offense.

The provision in the law prohibited the PTO from registering trademarks that may disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute any persons, living or dead.

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