Supreme Court rules disparaging trademarks protected by Constitution

The team's trademark litigation gained significant media coverage after the TTAB voted to cancel six of the team's trademark registrations, concluding that the term "redskins" is disparaging to a substantial number of Native Americans. The Slants challenged that rejection as a violation of free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, and the Supreme Court agreed.

A district court in Virginia upheld the cancellation in 2015, and so the team appealed to the Fourth Circuit, which put the case aside while The Slants case-officially Matal v. Tam-was considered by the Supreme Court.

Technically, the impact is more limited, striking down a 70-year-old federal law that banned the registration of "disparaging" trademarks.

The top United States court says the government can not deny registration of trademarks with offensive terms, arguing that is a violation of the right to free speech.

Alito continued: "The proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express 'the thought that we hate'".

Slants founder Simon Tam said his goal was to reclaim a derisive slur and transform it into a badge of ethnic pride. This Supreme Court ruling is a victory for that Asian-American rock band.

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"The Team is thrilled with today's unanimous decision as it resolves the Redskins' long-standing dispute with the government", the statement from attorney Lisa Blatt read.

In the Slants case, government officials argued that the law did not infringe on free speech rights because the band was still free to use the name even without trademark protection. As you'll recall, Mr. Tam, an Asian-American, formed his band in 2006 and recruited other Asian-Americans to join in order to provide an interesting and entertaining platform to discuss discrimination against Asian-Americans.

That case has been on hold while waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on The Slants. Shortly after that, the Tam case was headed to the Supreme Court, and Washington appealed for their own Supreme Court hearing, ahead of any decision by the Fourth Circuit.

Paul Fucito, a spokesman for the trademark office, said it is reviewing the decision and expects to issue new guidance for employees.

Monday's ruling likely means that the Redskins will not be stripped of their name and trademark.

"The commercial market is well stocked with merchandise that disparages prominent figures and groups, and the line between commercial and non-commercial speech is not always clear, as this case illustrates". "It seems this decision will indeed open the floodgates to applications for all sorts of potentially offensive and hateful marks", said Lisa Simpson, an intellectual property lawyer in NY.

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