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SCOTUS Cites Free Speech, Ordering Patent Office to Allow “Disparaging” Trademarks

Written by: on September 14, 2017 | Category: Blog | Tags:

Those businesses with #NotSafeForWork trademarks may be headed to the Trademark Office after this summer’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Matal v. Tam (No. 15–1293. Argued January 18, 2017—Decided June 19, 2017).  Also known as “The Slants” case, it involved a group of Asian-American musicians from Portland who tried to register their band name as a trademark and were denied by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) based on a statutory prohibition of “disparaging” trademarks.  In a highly deliberated and hotly debated ruling, SCOTUS ordered the USPTO to allow registration of “The Slants,” determining more broadly that a prohibition of disparaging marks violates the free speech protections of the First Amendment of the Constitution.  Many people cheered the ruling for its progressive approach to civil liberties and open dialogue, while others jeered the implications for controversial trademark-holders such as the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Either way, at a volatile time like this, we look to our leaders for moral guidance…and root for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Attorney Nicole J. O’Hara is a member of Gross McGinley’s Business Services Group, providing counsel to businesses in general matters and intellectual property concerns.

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