The Slants Win Supreme Court Battle Over Band's Name In Trademark Dispute

  • The Slants Win Supreme Court Battle Over Band's Name In Trademark Dispute

The Slants Win Supreme Court Battle Over Band's Name In Trademark Dispute

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the law permitting the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to turn down "disparaging" trademarks violates the First Amendment.

The suit was brought forth by Simon Tam, the founder of the Asian-American rock band The Slants.

In 2014, following a vehement campaign to pressure the National Football League and Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder to change the team's name over the concern that it offended many Native Americans, the trademark office canceled the Redskins' trademark, citing the same clause in the Lanham Act as it did with the Slants' application in 2011.

"After an excruciating legal battle that has spanned almost eight years, we´re beyond humbled and thrilled to have won this case at the Supreme Court", Tam said in a statement on social media after the ruling.

"It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle", writes Alito in the opinion.

In September 2016, the Supreme Court announced it would hear the similar case concerning The Slants, which indirectly was a win for the Redskins franchise on its own pending trademark battle.

The justices ruled that the 71-year-old trademark law barring disparaging terms infringes free speech rights.

"Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend", Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said in his opinion for the court.

Indian groups opposing the Redskins said the ruling does not change the fact that the name "is a dictionary-defined racial slur". That court was waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on Matal v. Tam before it made its decision. The four more "liberal" justices, led by Justice Anthony Kennedy, would've ended the discussion after finding that the PTO here is engaging in viewpoint discrimination among private speech.

Despite intense public pressure to change the name, Redskins owner Dan Snyder has refused, saying in the past that it "represents honour, respect and pride" for Native Americans.

The band has said it wanted to reclaim what is often seen as a slur. Snyder issued a quick response to the decision on Monday: "I am THRILLED".

The team's trademark registration was canceled in 2014 after decades of use.

Redskins attorney Lisa Blatt said the team was "thrilled" with the court's decision. Alito also said trademarks are not immune from First Amendment protection as part of a government program or subsidy. But they raised the bar for trademark denials so that names deemed to be offensive but not hateful can survive.

In an 8-0 decision, the court determined the US Patent and Trademark Office's so-called "disparagement clause" violates the First Amendment.

Justice Neil Gorsuch took no part in the case, which was argued before he joined the court.

In a filing Monday, the Justice Department defended the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board's decision previous year to strip the team of protections.