This morning, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to hear the trademark dispute involving the rock band, The Slants. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) previously denied The Slants’ trademark registration on the basis of section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, which prohibits the registration of disparaging trademarks. In 2015, the Federal Circuit held that section 2(a) is itself an unconstitutional restriction on the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. The USPTO appealed that decision to the Supreme Court earlier this year, and the Supreme Court announced today that it will hear the case, thus signaling that it will determine whether or not the Lanham Act’s prohibition on offensive trademarks is constitutional.
An earlier blog post described the related dispute over whether the Washington Redskins will lose their federally-registered trademarks in the Redskins name. The Supreme Court has not indicated whether it will also hear the Redskins’ dispute, which is currently pending before the Fourth Circuit. However, the Supreme Court’s decision regarding The Slants will very likely impact the Redskins’ dispute as well as the USPTO’s registration of other potentially disparaging trademarks.