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WHAT HAPPENED: Tam is a member of THE SLANTS, an Asian-American rock band who sound like your friend’s band who you always get invited to see live but never want to see live because they are not very good.  Tam sought to trademark the band’s name, but was denied by the U.S. Patent and Trade Office (“the PTO”) for being an antiquated racial slur.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  The PTO has a policy in place that denies trademark protection for offensive words, which is the basis under which the PTO denied Tam’s request.  The issue in this case is not whether the term THE SLANTS is offensive, but more broadly whether or not the PTO can constitutionally ban trademark terms based on their subjective standard for obscenity.  The lower court ruled in favor of THE SLANTS and held that the PTO’s policy is void as a matter of law.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS – It may seem obnoxious to point out that this only benefits rock bands with offensive names, but it is worth noting that there are more offensive band names than you may realize.  I have a friend who works for a very popular death metal record label, and his email signature would promote bands like DYING FETUS and album names like SULFUR AND SEMEN, so if you’re a hairy, stocky white dude who claims to worship Satan, this case could be for your benefit.  More generally, this case speaks to what the First Amendment actually gives you from the government.  On one hand, this is a government agency who is censoring private speech,; but more specifically, the government is not imprisoning THE SLANTS, but just not granting them additional commercial protection, which is an important distinction.  Most likely, that will be what this case turns on.

ROOT FOR LEE IF:  you don’t need to curse in your albums to sell records.

ROOT FOR TAM IF: you do, so f*** Will Smith, and f*** you too.

PREDICTION:  Tam 5-3

 

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