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SCOTUS: Disparaging Trademarks OK

SCOTUS: Disparaging Trademarks OK

Ruling May Help Washington Redskins

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the government can’t refuse to register potentially offensive names. In a unanimous decision, the court said that a federal law that denies protection to offensive or disparaging trademarks was unconstitutional.

Several news organizations, including CNN and The New York Times, reported that the ruling could help the Washington Redskins football team in its battle to protect its trademark.

“Holding that the registration of a trademark converts the mark into government speech would constitute a huge and dangerous extension of the government-speech doctrine, for other systems of government registration (such as copyright) could easily be characterized in the same way,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion.

“The commercial market is well stocked with merchandise that disparages prominent figures and groups, and the line between commercial and non-commercial speech is not always clear, as this case illustrates,” Alito added. “If affixing the commercial label permits the suppression of any speech that may lead to political or social ‘volatility,’ free speech would be endangered.”

The law says the government can deny trademark protection to messages that may disparage people, and “institutions, beliefs or national symbols.”

Monday’s case involved an Asian-American, Simon Tam, who named his rock band “The Slants.” Tam’s request to register the name was denied on the grounds that it was disparaging to people of Asian descent.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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