The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously this week that the U.S. government cannot refuse to register trademark names that are potentially offensive, saying that would violate the First Amendment. The case, Matal v. Tam, involved an Asian-American musical group called The Slants. But it is a clear signal that the Washington Redskins will prevail in efforts to retain the NFL team’s name, the issue in another trademark lawsuit.Will this ruling now unleash a host of nasty and offensive names for publicity-craving companies and organizations? Not likely, says Houston lawyer Steve Mitby of Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C., or AZA, who has handled a number of intellectual property cases.
This ruling is significant, but I wouldn’t expect it to lead to a wave of new outrageous trademark filings. It’s simply not that easy to register a trademark in the first place. The normal requirements – namely, that the mark be unique, non-confusing, and used in commerce – limit the ability of individuals to trademark insulting or derogatory words. Plus, trademark filers have to register under their own names. There are no anonymous trademarks. That should discourage those who might try to push the offensiveness envelope.
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