Football fans in New Jersey and around the country may have good reason to pay attention to a trademark dispute involving The Slants, an Asian-American rock band. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the band a trademark in 2011 because its name is considered a racial slur, and the case has many similarities with the controversy surrounding the name and logo of the Washington Redskins.
The band members say that they chose their name to reclaim a traditional slur, but their application was denied because the USPTO felt that it violated a provision of the 1946 Lanham Act prohibiting trademarks that disparage individuals, institutions, national symbols or beliefs. Despite understanding the band's motives, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board upheld the decision because the term could still offend Asian-Americans. After receiving the same answer from a federal appeals court, the band headed to the nation's capital on Jan. 18 to argue their case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Washington Redskins are involved in a bitter fight to keep their trademark even though their name is widely viewed as being disparaging to Native-Americans. A federal judge ruled to cancel the team's trademark in 2015, but a 2016 Washington Post survey found that nine out of 10 Native-Americans were not offended by the term. It is likely that senior figures at the NFL and Washington Redskins will be paying close attention when the Supreme Court releases its ruling on The Slants case.
The nation's trademark laws are complex, and trademark disputes can drag on for years and be ruinously expensive. Attorneys with a background in intellectual property law may be be able to help their clients to choose names and logos that provide their commercial ventures with a distinct identity while staying within boundaries established by the Lanham Act and other laws.