Portrait of Asian-American band The Slants (L-R: Tyler Chen, Ken Shima, Simon “Young” Tam, Joe X Jiang) in Old Town Chinatown, Portland, Oregon, USA on 21st August 2015. (Photo by: Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns)Courtesy The Slants
An Asian-American rock band called The Slants has taken a legal fight over its name all the way to an appeals court, resulting in a major decision over trademark rights.
The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) denied The Slants a trademark registration under an old section of trademark law that denies trademark registration to marks that the US Patent and Trademark Office considers disparaging. Now, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, sitting en banc, has struck down not just the USPTO decision about The Slants, but the entire section of the Lanham Act that bars “disparaging” trademarks.
The decision is sure to have repercussions for other owners of controversial trademarks—most notably, the Washington Redskins, a team that was stripped of its trademark rights but is continuing its fight at the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.
“Courts have been slow to appreciate the expressive power of trademarks,” wrote US Circuit Judge Kimberly Moore in the majority opinion (PDF). “Words—even a single word—can be powerful. Mr. Simon Shiao Tam named his band…