Our friends, The Slants, an Asian American rock band out of Portland, are heading to the U.S. Supreme Court on January 18 to try to gain the trademark for their name. The problem? Initially being told that “Slants” was an derogatory term (you can read The Slant’s Simon Tam’s YOMYOMF blog on this issue here). According to Rolling Stone:
The lawsuit stems from Slants founder Simon Tam’s failed attempt to copyright the name “the Slants”: The band’s application was rejected several times because it violated the Lanham Act, which prevents applicants from trademarking disparaging terms; in rejecting the Slants’ application, the trademark office cited UrbanDictionary.com as evidence that the term was derogatory.
The Slants, who viewed their name as a commentary on racial issues in America, argued that the trademark application denial impinged on their freedom of speech rights. In December 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit sided with the Slants, ruling that the U.S Patent and Trademark Office and Department of Justice had violated the band’s First Amendment rights.
Following the Slants’ victory, the appeals court also struck down the “disparagement portion” of the Lanham Act, which was enacted in 1946. Judge Kimberly Moore wrote in her opinion, “Courts have been slow to appreciate the expressive power of trademarks… Words – even a single word – can be powerful. Mr. Simon Tam named his band The Slants to make a statement about racial and cultural issues in this country. With his band name, Mr. Tam conveys more about our society than many volumes of undisputedly protected speech.”
However, in April 2016, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case following the Court of Appeals’ decision, resulting in the Slants’ January 18th hearing with the Supreme Court.
The Slants’ case drew additional press earlier this year when the Washington Redskins, the NFL football team that lost the trademark to their name over its derogatory connotations, attempted to piggyback on the Slants’ trademark case. However, while the Redskins’ argument was rejected, the Slants’ case proceeded.
To read the rest of the article, go to Rolling Stone: Asian-American Group The Slants Head to Supreme Court Over Band Name