The Supreme Court is taking up the offensive trademark dispute of the Slants, an Asian-American dance-rock band, and the case could determine how much power the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has in rejecting supposedly insulting phrases for protection, such as the name of NFL's Washington Redskins.
The Slants have been fighting the Trademark Office for eight years over the band's name, which some claim is a comment on the shape of the eyes of Asians and is considered offensive to that community, said The Associated Press.
The Trademark Office office canceled the Washington Redskins trademarks last year after ruling that the nickname disparaged Native American.
"I named the band the Slants because it represented our perspective – or slant – on life as people of color," Simon Tam, the Oregon band's founder, said in an opinion piece for NBC News. "It was a deliberate act of claiming an identity as well as a nod to Asian-American activists who had been using the term for decades."
"I've been fighting in courts to register our name for the past seven and a half years. I've supplied thousands of pages of evidence, including letters of support from community leaders and Asian-American organizations, independent national surveys, and an etymology report from one of the country's leading linguistics professors. The trademark office was not swayed. They called our effort 'laudable, but not influential.' With just a few keystrokes, they wiped away the voices of thousands of Asian Americans."
The Trademark Office has cited section 2A of the Lanham Act, saying the government should not register marks that are disparaging, and said the band's efforts to reclaim the name was irrelevant, said Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the UCLA School of Law, has been helping the band in its fight against the federal government. He told Oregon Public Broadcasting the ruling could essentially give the office power over to determine whose viewpoints deserve protection.
"You can register a mark that lets you say something positive about a group," said Volokh. "For example, 'Republicans Are Wonderful.' But you can't register a mark that says something negative. An example from a past case is 'Republicans Shouldn't Breed.' That’s viewpoint discrimination."
"Let's say the government were to say, 'If you want to make a movie or book that's anti-government, by all means, do that. We just won’t give you copyright protection.' Obviously, when the government does that it's going to create a special preference for different viewpoints."
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