The Supreme Court has decided to hear a case that might decide whether the government can deny Washington’s NFL team a trademark because it has deemed the team name is offensive.
The court granted certiorari on Lee V. Tam. If you remember, The Slants, an Asian-American rock band, sued the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office because it refused to trademark their name saying it proved offensive.
In December of last year, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided that the band’s name was private speech and therefore protected by the First Amendment.
“At issue in the case was Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, which allows the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to deny or cancel a trademark if it is “disparaging” of persons, institutions or national symbols.
“In a 10-2 decision, the court decided parts of that section were unconstitutional. Conferring a trademark, the court argues, does not make the band’s name government speech.
“Here’s the comparison the majority uses: ‘The PTO’s processing of trademark registrations no more transforms private speech into government speech than when the government issues permits for street parades, copyright registration certificates, or, for that matter, grants medical, hunting, fishing, or drivers licenses, or records property titles, birth certificates, or articles of incorporation.'”
The U.S. government appealed that decision and the Supreme Court has agreed to review it.
A similar regarding the trademark of the Washington Redskins is under review by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. But a Supreme Court decision in Lee V. Tam could settle that case.