Court Battles

Supreme Court agrees to hear case challenging Asian band trademark

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The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case Thursday challenging whether the First Amendment’s right to free speech allows for disparaging trademarks.

The case, Lee v. Tam, centers on an Asian-American dance-rock band named “The Slants.”

The frontman, Simon Shiao Tam, sued the Parent and Trademark Office (PTO) for refusing to register the band name. The board said the term “slants” referred to people of Asian descent in a disparaging way and cited Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, which bars it from registering scandalous, immoral or disparaging marks.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Tam, who argued that the board’s refusal to trademark the band name violated his right to free speech. The court said that Section 2 (a) of the Lanham Act “is a viewpoint-discriminatory regulation of speech, created and applied in order to stifle the use of certain disfavored messages.”

The PTO has appealed and the justices must now decide whether the free speech clause of the First Amendment trumps the disparagement provision in the Lanham Act.

Earlier this year, the Washington Redskins asked the court to take its case challenging the PTO’s decision to cancel its trademark if the court agreed to hear The Slants’ appeal.

The justices have yet to decide whether they will also hear the Redskins case, known as Pro Football Inc. v. Blackhorse.

Tags Disparagement First Amendment to the United States Constitution Intellectual property law Redskin The Slants trademark Washington Redskins trademark dispute

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