In Matal v. Tam, Simon Tam, a member of the Asian rock band The Slants had applied to register the service mark “The SLANTS” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board rejected the application to register the mark as potentially disparaging of people of Asian ancestry, under Section 2(a) of the federal trademark statute (the Lanham Act), which bars registration of potentially disparaging marks.
More specifically, the Lanham Act allowed the Trademark Office to refuse registration to trademarks that “[c]onsists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute…”
The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision via 2017 WL 2621315 (U.S. June 19, 2017). In the 8-0 decision, the Court affirmed the Federal Circuit’s opinion holding the portion of the federal trademark statute at issue unconstitutional. It held, among other things: “The disparagement clause violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. Contrary to the Government’s contention, trademarks are private, not government speech.”