In a unanimous ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court decided that the government cannot refuse to register trademarks that disparage "individuals, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols," Politico reports. The case centered on an Asian-American rock band that calls itself "The Slants"; the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had refused to register the name, citing a 71-year-old federal "disparagement clause" that was ultimately found to be in violation 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," wrote Justice Samuel Alito. "If affixing the commercial label permits the suppression of any speech that may lead to political or social 'volatility,' free speech would be endangered,” he wrote.
In addition to having potentially amusing consequences, the ruling could also "doom legal challenges to other trademarks many consider offensive, such as that for the Washington Redskins football team," Politico adds. The Redskins trademark was canceled in 2014 on grounds that it too is disparaging, in that case of Native Americans. Read more about The Slants' case and what the ruling could mean for the Redskins' trademark at The Week. Jeva Lange