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Denial of offensive trademarks found to be unconstitutional

Businesses in California may now have the option of trademarking a name or logo that others might view as offensive. On Dec. 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided that the portion of a federal law banning the registration of offensive trademarks was not constitutional because it violated the First Amendment.

The case that brought the trademark issue into question concerned an Asian-American rock band called The Slants. When the band attempted to register a trademark for its band name in 2010, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused twice, saying that the name was disparaging to Asians. The front man of the Portland, Oregon-based group said that the band wanted to reclaim the racial slur.

The recent decision about The Slants trademark could affect another court's decision in the trademark case involving the Washington Redskins. The National Football League team's trademarks were previously canceled for being offensive to Native Americans, and that decision is currently on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. A judge who ruled in the case involving The Slants said that invalidating the provision banning offensive trademarks could lead to more offensive trademarks, but the provision was a violation of the First Amendment.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office may deny trademarks for other reasons besides their offensiveness. Some trademark registrations are denied because they are too vague or too similar to an existing trademark. A business owner who is attempting to register trademarks for names and logos may want to have assistance from an attorney. If a trademark registration is denied, an attorney may be able to help the business owner to appeal the decision.

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