When Trademarks Offend

The NYU School of Law Forum
April 19, 2017

“When Trademarks Offend”

Simon Tam, Founder and Bassist, The Slants
Lee Rowland, Senior Staff Attorney, Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, ACLU

Jeanne Fromer, Professor, New York University School of Law

The Washington Redskins have a name many Native American activists and others consider to be racially offensive. Simon Tam is a social activist and frontman for The Slants, an Asian American band named in part with the aim of reappropriating a racial slur. The US Patent and Trademark Office or federal courts have recently determined that the names of the football team and the band are not entitled to trademark protection because they are disparaging. Is it appropriate for the Trademark Office to refuse to register a mark that might be disparaging? Is it really affecting speech when it does so?