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Redskins Expected to Get Legal Boost After Supreme Court Ruling on Trademarks

27 June 2017

The Supreme Court declared on Monday that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to refuse to register trademarks that can be considered offensive, according to Politico.

Beyond giving The Slants the legality to trademark their name, the Supreme Court's ruling also has implications for several larger trademark disputes.

The Patent Office had denied their attempt to trademark their band name because it was seen as derogatory towards Asians. The Supreme Court past year rejected the team's petition to have its case heard alongside The Slants' case, and the team's appeal of the initial trademark board ruling is still winding through lower courts. The court decided the ban on registering "scandalous, immoral, or disparaging remarks" violated the First Amendment.

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After the government rejected The Slants request, band frontman Simon Tam appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, which in 2015 ruled that the so-called disparagement provision of the 1946 law governing trademarks ran afoul of the Constitution's guarantee of free speech. This journey has always been much bigger than our band: "it's been about the rights of all marginalized communities to determine what's best for ourselves".

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) and subsequently the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) had denied registration for the trademark THE SLANTS on the grounds that it was allegedly disparaging.

The judgment was unanimous - with two asterisks: Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wasn't yet on the court when the case was argued in January, did not take part.

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But while the Slants and Washington NFL team have the Lanham Trademark Act in common, their cases differ in other ways - most notably, the Washington NFL team is not made up of Native Americans who are trying to reclaim an offensive name. All eight Justices joined in part of the decision, with four offering a concurring opinion on part of it.

And so, The News exercises its free speech rights to refrain from using the R-word when referring to the Washington football club, except when using the word itself is necessary to convey the news.

"Trademarks are private, not government, speech". However, that would mean the team would have to challenge each potential violation in each individual state court. But they raised the bar for trademark denials so that names deemed to be offensive but not hateful can survive. It is likely to be remanded back to the original district court to re-examine it based on the recent Supreme Court ruling.

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Redskins attorney Lisa Blatt said the team was "thrilled" with the court's decision.

Redskins Expected to Get Legal Boost After Supreme Court Ruling on Trademarks