Supreme Court ruling on disparaging trademarks bolsters Redskins in name fight

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The Washington Redskins are not likely to lose their legal ability to use their controversial name over trademark issues following Monday’s ruling from the Supreme Court.

The case is pretty fascinating: an Asian-American rock band named “The Slants” had been denied a trademark in 2011 by the United States Patent Office because the name of the band was considered disparaging and violated the 1946 Lanham Trademark Act, which did not allow trademarks that “may disparage . . . persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute” to be registered. 

The band sued, and for the past seven years has been waiting on a decision. The Supreme Court issued that decision Monday, with Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. basically saying that disparagement is subjective. 

“That is viewpoint discrimination in the sense relevant here: Giving offense is a viewpoint,” Alito wrote, according to the Washington PostAdditionally, Alito said that refusing a trademark based on someone taking offense cuts directly against the First Amendment. “Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend,” Alito wrote.

This is big news for the Redskins because the United States Patent Office, which handles the registration of trademarks and patents, has previously canceled the Redskins trademark of the name. Additionally, a federal judge ordered the cancellation of the Redskins name a year later

However, the Redskins wouldn’t lose the trademark until they had exhausted their appeals — the Supreme Court has basically said with this ruling that it would side with the Redskins in their case. 

Replace “rock band” with “NFL team” and replace “The Slants” with “the Redskins” — it is essentially the same case regardless of the level of offense. There will be many people who are not thrilled about the decision, but the reality is that the Redskins are unlikely to lose their ability to use the name unless they choose to do so voluntarily. 



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