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Members of the rock band The Slants have the right to call themselves by a disparaging name, the Supreme Court says, in a ruling that could have broad impact on how the First Amendment is applied in other trademark cases.
The Slants' leader Simon Tam filed a lawsuit after the Patent and Trademark Office kept the band from registering its name and rejected its appeal, citing the Lanham Act, which prohibits any trademark that could "disparage ... or bring ... into contemp[t] or disrepute" any "persons, living or dead," as the court states.
After a federal court agreed with Tam and his bands, the Patent and Trademark Office sued the band to avoid being compelled to register its name as a trademark. On Monday, the Supreme Court sided with The Slants.
"The disparagement clause violates the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion for the court. Contrary to the Government's contention, trademarks are private, not government speech."
The decision is likely to have an impact on other pending disputes, including challenges to the marks held by the Washington Redskins.