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Dan Snyder 'Thrilled' with Supreme Court decision that benefits Redskins

27 June 2017, 11:53 | Gladys Abbott

US top court says law banning offensive trademarks is unconstitutional

Justices say government can't refuse disparaging trademarks

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed legal papers supporting the band, hailed the ruling as a major victory for the First Amendment.

In the Slants case, government officials argued that the law did not infringe on free speech rights because the band was still free to use the name even without trademark protection. The Supreme Court previous year rejected the team's petition to have its case heard alongside The Slants' case, and the team's appeal of the initial trademark board ruling is still winding through lower courts. Courts had long ruled that it didn't violate the First Amendment because it doesn't actually bar the real-life use of the offending mark, nor does it prevent the owner from enforcing common law trademark rights. After several rounds of appeals, Mr. Tam's case (Matal v. Tam) wound up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning the registration of disparaging trademarks Monday, finding the law violates the First Amendment's free speech clause.

"Holding that the registration of a trademark converts the mark into government speech would constitute a huge and unsafe extension of the government-speech doctrine, for other systems of government registration (such as copyright) could easily be characterized in the same way", Justice Samuel Alito wrote.

The Washington Redskins found themselves in a similar predicament in 2014, when the trademark office ruled that the name offends American Indians and canceled the team's trademark.

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In support of the disparagement clause, the Government argued that (1) trademarks are government speech, not private speech; (2) trademarks are a form of government subsidy; and (3) constitutionality should be determined under a "government-program" doctrine. The Patent and Trademark Office cited this provision in 2011 when it refused to register a trademark in the name of The Slants, thereby denying the band the same protections that federal law extends to countless other musical acts.

"On The Slant" s Facebook page, Young wrote, "After an excruciating legal battle that has spanned almost eight years, we're beyond humbled and thrilled to have won this case at the Supreme Court". The Constitution does not contain a "hate speech" or "disparaging" exception to the First Amendment.

One of the biggest winners of this decision is the Washington Redskins. The franchise's attorney, Robert Raskopf, was present at the Supreme Court during oral arguments in January.

Trademark office spokesman Paul Fucito said officials are reviewing the court's ruling and plan to issue further guidance on how they will review trademark applications going forward. "It canceled the registration for the Washington Redskins in 2014 at the behest of some Native Americans who considered the name offensive".

A U.S. District Court judge upheld that ruling in 2015.

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