Portland band 'The Slants' wins in U.S. Supreme Court

Ban on offensive-name trademarks tossed

SCOTUS sides with Portland band

BEND, Ore. - A Portland-based band won a major free-speech victory Monday, in a fight that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“You know, I feel excited, humbled -- all the normal things,” Simon Tam, front man of The Slants, told NewsChannel 21 Monday afternoon.

Tam said the battle began in 2009, when they started their trademark application. The request was denied on the grounds that the name is derogatory to Asians. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cited a roughly 70 year-old statute, the Lanham Act.

“That requires the patent or trademark office to deny a trademark application to an applicant if that mark or name may disparage any person, living or dead, or an institution or a belief or a national symbol,” said Alycia Sykora a Bend-based attorney.

But the First Amendment demands viewpoint neutrality.

“They said, 'You can’t get a trademark for a disparaging name,' but that’s viewpoint discrimination,” Sykora said. “It’s OK if you want to say something nice and positive, but you can’t do it if it’s disparaging.”

The court unanimously ruled the federal government cannot refuse to register trademarks for being disparaging.

“Instead of being afraid that my intentions might be misinterpreted by some random government employee, which it’s happened time and time again,” Tam said, “we can now open that conversation and say this is why we want to use our particular mark. And thanks to the First Amendment, we’re able to keep expressing those views, whether or not the government agrees with them.”

It’s a victory for Tam, The Slants and free speech.

The complete ruling can be found here:

More information on The Slants is at the link below:

It's also the topic of our new KTVZ.COM Poll: Do you agree that offensive trademarks should be protected as freedom of speech? Find the poll halfway down the right side of our home page.

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