Benjamin Appelbaum, Attorney at Law

High court rules against government in trademark case

The Supreme Court made a ruling that will have an impact on intellectual property, specifically trademarks, in New Jersey and across the country. On June 24, the justices struck down a rule that had been in place for a long time banning scandalous or immoral symbols and words from trademark protections. The immediate case involved a clothing brand whose trademark application had been rejected.

A street wear designer had applied for trademark protection for his clothing company, FUCT, but the trademark was denied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The Supreme Court was unanimous with all nine justices joining in a decision written by Elena Kagan. The ruling said that the ban on immoral trademarks was in violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.

Three justices, Sotomayor, Breyer and Roberts, partly dissented, saying that the ban on scandalous symbols or words should be upheld. Sotomayor's dissent noted that the trademark office would be forced to register even the most profane, obscene or vulgar images and words.

The clothing designer pursued a trademark in order to protect his brand from people making counterfeit clothing. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in favor of the clothing designer, and the government appealed the case to the Supreme Court. According to an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, the decision is a First Amendment victory.

For many businesses in New Jersey, intellectual property is among their most important assets. An attorney who practices trademark law might be able to help interested parties by running trademark searches for specific terms or by drafting and filing a trademark application on their behalf. An attorney might be able to secure protections for intellectual property or communicate with government officials on the client's behalf. Certain kinds of words cannot be trademarked, so an attorney may provide guidance.

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Benjamin Appelbaum, Attorney at Law - Intellectual Property

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