The Slants rock band fights for its trademark in the Supreme Court

| Sep 30, 2016 | Trademark Law

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether the Asian-American rock band The Slants can trademark their name. It has been previously deemed offensive by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 

Simon Tam, the band’s founder, chose the name to co-opt and make fun of a slur that is often directed at Asians. When his trademark application was denied, he appealed the decision. The appeals court agreed with the band and overturned the PTO’s decision. The U.S. Justice Department then appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

According to Mr. Tam, the PTO’s denial of the band’s trademark is a violation of their right to free speech. As stated in a release on the band’s website:

“The restriction of speech hurts marginalized communities. We should not discourage people from using wit, irony, or reappropriation to disarm the malicious. There should be a more culturally competent approach to avoid undermining the work of activists, artists, nonprofit groups, or businesses who use reappropriation to encourage, empower, and to educate.”

The Justice Department, on the other hand, claims that trademarks are a benefit, not a right, and therefore the ruling is not limiting freedom of speech. They claim that approval of this trademark “would convey to the public that the United States regards racial slurs as appropriate.”

The decision made by the Supreme Court in this case could have future implications for future trademark decisions. Previous denials for names such as “Heeb Media” and “Dykes on Bikes,” or even the Washington Redskins, could have grounds for reversal if the appeals court decision is upheld.