Justices say law on offensive trademarks is unconstitutional
Jun 20 2017 by Larry Hoffman
Asian-American rock bandThe Slants pose for a photo with the Statue of Liberty in the distance behind them.
In June 2014, the United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled six federal trademark registrations for the Redskins, saying the nickname is "disparaging to Native Americans" and can not be trademarked under federal law that prohibits trademark protection on offensive or disparaging language.
The team welcomed the decision in a statement that quoted team owner Dan Snyder as saying he was "THRILLED!" with the decision. The Patent and Trademark Office cited this provision in 2011 when it refused to register a trademark in the name of The Slants, thereby denying the band the same protections that federal law extends to countless other musical acts.
The team's appeal, also on free speech grounds, was put on hold in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, pending the outcome of The Slants' case.
During the Obama administration, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) told the rockers they couldn't trademark The Slants because it was offensive.
Their fight wasn't meant to help sports teams like the Redskins.
Far more important, it's a huge brushback to all efforts to ban public "hate speech": The high court has made it crystal clear that it just doesn't matter how hurtful you find certain words to be, the government and all its agents can't discriminate against them.
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A rock band called The Slants won a landmark victory in the US Supreme Court which ruled that its name is protected as free speech by the Constitution. While he did state in his opinion that the government "has an interest in preventing speech expressing ideas that offend", he did so by definitely stating that these cases do not apply to what is a narrow application.
At issue in The Slants' case was a law that prohibits registration of trademarks that "may disparage. persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs or national symbols".
Losing federal protection did not mean the team could no longer use the term "Redskins".
Bellecourt also said he's not surprised with the Supreme Court's ruling.
The Supreme Court sided with the band, ruling the Lanham Act violates freedom of speech. It is expressing contradictory views.9 It is unashamedly endorsing a vast array of commercial products and services.
As NPR's Nina Totenberg has reported, "the trademark office has denied registration to a group calling itself "Abort the Republicans", and another called "Democrats Shouldn't Breed". Washington has filed for trademarks on "Redskins" four times since 1967.