Slants Get Overturn Of USPTO On Their Name

Monday, December 28, 2015

If you've been frolicking during the holidays like I have with all the elves and re-watches of CTHD (because we all love Michelle Yeoh) you may have missed this tidbit of news where the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned USPTO's decision to allow the The Slants to trademark their name.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) denied The Slants a trademark registration under an old section of trademark law that denies trademark registration to marks that the US Patent and Trademark Office considers disparaging. Now, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, sitting en banc, has struck down not just the USPTO decision about The Slants, but the entire section of the Lanham Act that bars "disparaging" trademarks. The decision is sure to have repercussions for other owners of controversial trademarks—most notably, the Washington Redskins, a team that was stripped of its trademark rights but is continuing its fight at the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

"Courts have been slow to appreciate the expressive power of trademarks," wrote US Circuit Judge Kimberly Moore in the majority opinion (PDF). "Words—even a single word—can be powerful. Mr. Simon Shiao Tam named his band THE SLANTS to make a statement about racial and cultural issues in this country.... Many of the marks rejected as disparaging convey hurtful speech that harms members of oft-stigmatized communities. But the First Amendment protects even hurtful speech."

Tam, the front man for the dance-rock band, has said he chose the mark to "own" the stereotype and has said that reaction from the Asian community has been "very positive."
Some more thoughts and info on this in a later post.