California music lovers may be interested to learn that a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has denied an Oregon-based rock band's application to trademark its name. The Asian-American band is named Slants, and its trademark application was rejected on the basis that the band name is a racial slur.
For its part, the band, which filed its trademark applications in 2010 and 2011, both of which were denied on the basis that the band name disparaged Asians, stated it is simply trying to reclaim a name and make it into something positive. They classify their type of music as Chinatown dance rock from their base in Portland, Oregon. All of the group's members are Asian-Americans and indicated they are certainly not trying to disparage others.
The band had argued that the "no disparagement" rule in U.S. trademark law violates First Amendment free speech rights. While the appeal was denied, one of the judges wrote a separate opinion that the disparagement rules may need to be changed and updated in order to be correct under free speech laws. The band has indicated it will appeal the decision to the full appellate court. The current controversy over the Washington Redskins trademark is based upon similar reasoning.
Current federal trademark law provides that disparaging words are not eligible for registration. It will be interesting to see what happens both in this case as well as that of the NFL team. Trademarks provide important protections for businesses that own them, preventing others from using the name without permission and thus protecting valuable intellectual property rights. People who are interested in registering a trademark may want to seek the assistance of an intellectual property attorney.