U.S. Supreme Court: Offensive Trademark Ban Is Unconstitutional

U.S. Supreme Court: Offensive Trademark Ban Is Unconstitutional
Rhett Pardon

WASHINGTON — In a decision of particular interest to adult entertainment and sex toy and novelty brand holders, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that federal trademarks can be registered in most cases even if they are considered derogatory.

The decision, 8-0, was a victory for The Slants, an Asian American rock band from Portland, Ore, which applied to trademark its name despite the federal government’s objection that it is an "offensive" term.

The ruling also is a huge win for companies in the adult entertainment and sex toy and novelty industries that might use rough-and-tumble jargon to describe their erotic products and services, as well.

Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said that the law's "disparagement clause" violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment. 

"The commercial market is well stocked with merchandise that disparages prominent figures and groups, and the line between commercial and non-commercial speech is not always clear, as this case illustrates. If affixing the commercial label permits the suppression of any speech that may lead to political or social 'volatility,' free speech would be endangered," Alito wrote.

Industry attorney Marc Randazza, who authored an amicus brief in The Slants case in 2015 on behalf of the First Amendment Lawyers Association, told XBIZ this morning that the ruling “is a great victory for freedom of expression over the dark forces of politically correct censorship.”

“This is great for the adult industry — since many of our trademarks tend to be rejected under Section 2(a),” Randazza said. “This decision only deals with the ‘disparaging’ portion of the censorship act, but the underpinnings of the ‘immoral and scandalous’ trademark prohibition are completely destroyed by this decision.”

Randazza said that his law firm, Randazza Legal Group, has spent years “fighting against this censorship regime.”

He noted that he foreshadowed today’s decision in his law review article, “Freedom of Expression and Morality Based Impediments to the Enforcement of Intellectual Property rights.”   

“We devoted many hours to briefing this, pro bono, from the lowest levels to this case itself,” he said. “We are very happy to see that the court unanimously agreed that free speech means more than political correctness.”

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