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Trademarks and the First Amendment

Recently, the United States Supreme Court ruled that trademarks are protected by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Many wonder what this means for holders of trademarks, or prospective trademark applicants. The United States government cannot reject a proposed trademark on grounds that the viewpoint it expresses is distasteful or offensive. According to the Supreme Court, this would amount to government censorship of free speech. No viewpoint can be discriminated against, according to the Court.

The Federal Government enacted the Lanham Act to encourage commerce and create a uniform standard. The relevant provision is the “disparagement clause,” which has heretofore barred trademarks that defame individuals, institutions, or beliefs.

The recent precedential case is known as Matal v. Tam. The facts underlying the case are as follows. The lead singer of a band known as “The Slants,” sought to trademark the band’s name, but his application was rejected by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The Office determined that the band’s name was derogatory toward Asians and offensive. As such, the USPTO determined that the band was not entitled to receive the government sanctioned benefit of trademark protection.  The Supreme Court disagreed and held that trademark registration cannot be denied by discriminating based on viewpoints.  While the government may discriminate based on viewpoint when it comes to its own speech, trademarks are private speech and the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited because the ideas themselves are offensive to some of their hearers.

Philadelphia Trademark Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green Represent Clients in Intellectual Property Litigation

At Sidkoff, Pincus & Green, our legal team provides services to businesses and individuals in trademark disputes and other intellectual property matters. To schedule a confidential consultation, call us today at 215-574-0600. With offices conveniently located in Philadelphia, our Philadelphia trademark lawyers represent clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.