In First Amendment Case, Supreme Court Finds Offensive Trademarks Protected

After being embroiled in a legal battle for almost eight years, Asian-American rock outfit The Slants have emerged victorious, with the US Supreme Court ruling on Monday that the band's name is protected as free speech by the Constitution.

Today's decision marks a victory for Simon Shiao Tam, who has fought for almost a decade to register The Slants, the name of his dance-rock band based in Portland, Oregon, as a trademark.

Today's ruling marks the end of a legal saga that started nearly eight years ago when the United States Trademark and Patent Office attempted to prevent The Slants, an Asian-American band, from trademarking their name on the grounds that "slants" disparages Asian Americans.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion, in which he indicated that the act of registering a trademark should not be considered government speech, and is protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court vindicated the Team's position that the First Amendment blocks the government from denying or cancelling a trademark registration base on the government's opinion.

The federal government can not refuse to grant protection to trademarks that some consider offensive, the U.S. Supreme court ruled Monday.

Alito continued: "The proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express 'the thought that we hate'".

The trademark office for years had raised no concerns about the Redskins, agreeing to register the name in 1967, 1974, 1978 and 1990.

A federal judge in 2015 affirmed the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board's 2014 revocation of six federal trademark registrations belonging to the Redskins. The term is viewed as derogatory to Asians, but the band wanted to reclaim the term and "drain its denigrating force".

Government officials said the law did not infringe on free speech rights because the band was still free to use the name even without trademark protection.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder has refused to change the name of the franchise, arguing his team's mascot "represents honor, respect and pride". But the US Supreme Court has now decided in favour of The Slants. "We grew up and the notion of having slanted eyes was always considered a negative thing", band frontman Simon Tam told NPR.

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.

The judgment was unanimous - with two asterisks: Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wasn't yet on the court when the case was argued in January, did not take part.

Washington D.C's National Football League franchise scored a big victory in its ongoing battle to preserve its racist name.

  • Leroy Wright