USA top court says law banning offensive trademarks is unconstitutional

In January's arguments, numerous Court's eight Justices wondered why the band's name wasn't protected by the First Amendment, when it came to trademark use.

The closely watched case of Matal v. Tam (formerly Lee v. Tam) involved an interpretation of the "disparagement clause" in the 1946 Lanham Act, which U.S. Patent and Trademark Office the ability to deny a trademark "disparage. or bring. into contemp [t] or disrepute any persons, living or dead".

Simon Shiao Tam, bassist for The Slants, spoke about his ongoing legal fight with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to trademark his band name at the University of Washington.

A federal judge earlier had upheld the trademark office's cancellation of the team name, but the matter was on hold pending the outcome of the Slants' case.

Writing separately, Justice Anthony Kennedy said ban on disparaging trademarks was a clear form of viewpoint discrimination that is forbidden under the First Amendment.

The ongoing Redskins case is expected to be heard before the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The court ruled that the 71-year-old trademark law infringes upon free speech rights, Stereogum reports.

In his opinion for the court, Justice Samuel Alito rejected arguments that trademarks are government speech, not private speech.

In the Redskins case, the trademark office registered the team's trademarks in 1967, 1974, 1978 and 1990.

The government previously said a ruling favoring The Slants could lead to a proliferation of racial slurs as sanctioned trademarks. The Redskins also contend their name honors American Indians, but the team has faced decades of legal challenges from Native American groups that say the name is racist.

The ruling likely paves the way for the Redskins to protect trademarks covering the team's name. All eight Justices joined in part of the decision, with four offering a concurring opinion on part of it.

But the biggest impact will be on the Redskins, which saw the registrations on their billion-dollar intellectual property revoked in 2014 under the same rule.

Members of the UCLA Law Supreme Court clinic.

The Native Americans who petitioned the board to invalidate the team's trademarks said in a statement that they were "disappointed" with the Supreme Court's ruling, but they also made the case that the name is still disparaging to Native Americans. Since 1946, the US trademark law has included a provision that barred the government from registering trademarks that may disparage people or groups. The briefs supporting Tam's position were researched and written by UCLA Law professor Stuart Banner and the students in his Supreme Court Clinic.

  • Larry Hoffman