Arts&Culture

Redskins' trademark usage boosted by Supreme Court ruling

Redskins' trademark usage boosted by Supreme Court ruling

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a law that prohibits the government from registering trademarks that "disparage" others violates the First Amendment, a decision that could impact the Washington Redskins' efforts to hang on to its controversial name.

The ruling specifically involves Simon Tam, an Asian-American musician and political activist, whose rock band was named "The Slants" - to take back a term that once was an insult.

In 2014, following a vehement campaign to pressure the National Football League and Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder to change the team's name over the concern that it offended many Native Americans, the trademark office canceled the Redskins' trademark, citing the same clause in the Lanham Act as it did with the Slants' application in 2011.

Last September the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the laws to be mostly legal, striking down only the requirement that absentee voters accurately provide their full address and birth date. "For these reasons, we hold that the disparagement clause violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment".

FILE - In this April 4, 2017 file, the Supreme Court in Washington.

The justices ruled that the 71-year-old trademark law barring disparaging terms infringes free speech rights.

Justice Anthony Kennedy expressed skepticism at the government's argument that trademarks are commercial speech that do not express ideas.

The team has used the "Redskins" name since 1932. That court was waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on Matal v. Tam before it made its decision. "Contrary to the Government's contention, trademarks are private, not government speech".

Banzhaf filed a petition to deny the renewal of Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder's Washington radio station, WWXX-FM, over its use of the term "Redskins" on-air to refer to the team.

"This journey has always been much bigger than our band: it's been about the rights of all marginalized communities to determine what´s best for ourselves", he said.

The case essentially lets the Washington Redskins use their nickname and to continue profiting from the name as they had been fighting with the Trademark Office over its use.

"I am THRILLED!" he said in a statement Monday morning.

Patent and Trademark Office denied the request on the ground that it disparages Asians.

Lisa Simpson, an intellectual property expert, characterized the Supreme Court's decision as a slippery slope.

Patent and Trademark Office spokesman Paul Fucito said the agency was reviewing the decision.

"A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all", Kennedy said in an opinion joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The outcome is likely to affect the legal case of the Washington Redskins, whose trademark registration was revoked in 2014 under the same disparagement clause.