The Slants rock the legal world as Supreme Court allows trademark

Supreme Court on Monday struck down a portion of federal law that prevents offensive trademarks, a ruling that could benefit the Washington Redskins in the use of their nickname.

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.

The band filed a lawsuit after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected the band's trademark registration, citin the Lanham Act, which prohibits any trademark that could "disparage ... or bring ... into contemp [t] or disrepute" any "persons, living or dead", according to NPR.

The federal government said in court papers that it should not be required to approve trademarks "containing crude references to women based on parts of their anatomy; the most repellent racial slurs and white-supremacist slogans; and demeaning illustrations of the prophet Mohammed and other religious figures".

The justices declined to review the ruling that dismissed claims by Ohio's Democratic Party and homeless rights groups that the state's "perfect form" law, which invalidates ballots for even minor errors, deprived thousands of people of their right to vote, violating the federal Voting Rights Act.

In their decision, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's opinion.




The justices were unanimous in saying that the 71-year-old trademark law barring disparaging terms infringes free speech rights guaranteed in the Constitution's First Amendment. Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the the court's opinion, agreed.

"If private speech could be passed off as government speech by simply affixing a government seal of approval, government could silence or muffle the expression of disfavored viewpoints."

Dan Snyder, the team's owner, has said that the name "represents honor, represents respect, represents pride". Snyder issued a quick response to the decision on Monday: "I am THRILLED".

The ruling will end a two-decade effort by Native American activists to cancel the team's registrations as pressure to change the name.

Lisa Simpson, an intellectual property expert, characterized the Supreme Court's decision as a slippery slope. Alito also said trademarks are not immune from First Amendment protection as part of a government program or subsidy. The decision could destroy legal challenges to other controversial trademarks, such as the Washington Redskins football team. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a separate opinion and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Band members also dedicated their new release, "The Band Who Must Be Named", as an "open letter to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to articulate these values". The protections include blocking the sale of counterfeit merchandise and working to pursue a brand development strategy.

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