This article was originally written for the YOMYOMF blog which was closed approximately two years ago and is being re-posted here for archival purposes.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the The Slants on their trademark dispute case with the federal government, and while there’s certainly more discussions that will surround the ruling (including the name of a certain Washington NFL team) – the long fight for The Slants is finally over.
From USA Today:
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that even trademarks considered to be derogatory deserve First Amendment protection.
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.
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. But they raised the bar for trademark denials so that names deemed to be offensive but not hateful can survive.
After a federal court agreed with Tam and his band, the Patent and Trade Office sued to avoid being compelled to register its name as a trademark. On Monday, the Supreme Court sided with The Slants.
“The disparagement clause violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion for the court. Contrary to the Government’s contention, trademarks are private, not government speech.”
The band has said it wanted to reclaim what is often seen as a slur.
“We grew up and the notion of having slanted eyes was always considered a negative thing,” Tam said in January. “Kids would pull their eyes back in a slant-eyed gesture to make fun of us. … I wanted to change it to something that was powerful, something that was considered beautiful or a point of pride instead.”