Washington Redskins get help in their trademark case via Supreme Court ruling


This case concerned a rock band called the "The Slants", a reference to the racial slur for Asians.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor an Asian-American band from Portland, The Slants' in a trademark dispute with the federal Patent and Trademark Office.

That was part of the reasoning Justice Anthony Kennedy used in choosing to strike down the law: In an opinion that was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, Kennedy wrote that the ban on disparaging trademarks was a clear form of viewpoint discrimination forbidden under the First Amendment.

"It is a fundamental principle of the First Amendment that the government may not punish or suppress speech based on disapproval of the ideas or perspectives the speech conveys", he wrote.

In the separate Redskins case, a trademark board in 2014 canceled the team's six trademarks at the request of Native American activists on grounds that the team name disparaged Native Americans. John McCain Daniel Snyder, the owner of a professional football team in the Washington D.C. area, whose nickname and trademark had been facing a similar court challenge.

"The Supreme Court vindicated the Team's position that the First Amendment blocks the government from denying or cancelling a trademark registration based on the government's opinion", Blatt said in a statement.

But Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo woman who has been the lead plaintiff in a yearslong legal fight against the team's name, said the fight is not over, adding that years of litigation have found that "the term is offensive".

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The trademark office for years had raised no concerns about the Redskins, agreeing to register the name in 1967, 1974, 1978 and 1990. The decision is likely to improve the Redskins' chances of retaining their trademark.

The government, which made its defence when Barack Obama was still president, said trademarks were government speech - not individual speech protected by the Constitution.

The government's argument was that trademarks aren't private speech, they're "government speech" because registration of the mark represents a granting of intellectual property rights by the United States. But founder Simon Tam said the point of the band's name is just the opposite: an attempt to reclaim a slur and use it as "a badge of pride".

With the Supreme Court's decision, legal analysts expect the Redskins will eventually get their trademark back.

While the organization has insisted that its name is not offensive, this recent ruling of the Supreme Court protects even offensive names.

The Supreme Court sided with the band, ruling the Lanham Act violates freedom of speech.

A statement issued in the name of Blackhorse and four other Native American petitioners called the high court's ruling narrow: "It focused exclusively on whether the disparagement provision of the law was constitutional".