Justices say law on offensive trademarks is unconstitutional

The Supreme Court on Monday sided with Asian-American dance-rock band The Slants in striking down a provision in trademark law that banned the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) from registering disparaging names. The Supreme Court on Monday, June 19, 2017, struck down part of a law that bans offensive trademarks in a ruling that is expected to help the Washington Redskins in their legal fight over the team name.

Supreme Court judge Samuel Alito said the patent office could not refuse to register the group's name because it was deemed disparaging.

The federal government said in court papers that it should not be required to approve trademarks "containing crude references to women based on parts of their anatomy; the most repellent racial slurs and white-supremacist slogans; and demeaning illustrations of the prophet Mohammed and other religious figures".

Justice Elena Kagan asked whether the First Amendment rule that prohibits the government from discriminating against disfavored views applies to the trademark's ban on "bad" trademarks.

In a unanimous judgment that splintered on its reasoning, the Supreme Court correctly held that the "disparagement clause" of the Lanham Act (the federal trademark law) violated the Constitution.

"Not only do trademarks function only minimally as a vehicle for expression, but trademark registration also involves the necessary participation of the government in approving that registration, which confers relaxed First Amendment review even when combined with the speech of a private party", the Obama lawyers said.

Today's decision will have implications for Washington's football team, whose name is now a dictionary-defined slur. But a year ago, it allowed Texas to ban specialty license plates featuring the Confederate flag because it was considered a form of government speech.

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Despite intense public pressure to change the name, Redskins owner Dan Snyder has refused, saying it "represents honor, respect and pride".

"I am THRILLED", Snyder told the AP. As Justice Alito noted in the court's opinion on the case, Tam maintained that naming the band after a slur was an attempt from a member of a marginalized community to reclaim a derogatory phrase used to oppress and strip it of its power.

"It canceled the registration for the Washington Redskins in 2014 at the behest of some Native Americans who considered the name offensive".

The court also said the Voting Rights Act provision at issue could only be enforced by the US attorney general, and lawsuits by private parties were barred. The same is true for the Redskins, but the team did not want to lose the legal protections that go along with a registered trademark.

Government officials said the law did not infringe on free speech rights because the band was still free to use the name even without trademark protection.

He sought to register the name with the trademark office.

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