Case Overview

Action

The Court ruled that the Disparagement Clause violated the First Amendment.

Facts/Syllabus

The rock band, The Slants, was denied the trademark for their band’s name by the Patent and Trademark Office because the name could be seen as offensive and disparaging towards “persons of Asian descent.” The office cited the Disparagement Clause of the Lanham Act of 1946 which allowed for the denial of trademarks that “[consist] of or [comprise] immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” Lead singer Simon Tam appealed the decision U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on First Amendment grounds. The appeals court ruled that the Disparagement Clause was unconstitutional and the Trademark Office asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision.

Importance of Case

In his opinion, Alito reasoned that the Disparagement Clause constituted viewpoint discrimination and said “speech may not be banned on the grounds that it expresses ideas that offend.” The Court emphasized how trademarks constitute private speech and not government speech.

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