Supreme Court Ruled that Trademarks Should Be Granted Regardless of ‘Scandalous’ or ‘Immoral’ Names and Imagery

  • On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down a portion of a federal law with a unanimous ruling that blocked granting trademarks to logos or names deemed “scandalous” or “immoral,” which includes sexual images and profanity.
  • Certain images and names are banned under a part of the Lanham Act, which currently prohibits “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.”
  • By issuing the unanimous ruling, the High Court sided with clothing designer Erik Brunetti whose clothing brand “FUCT” was denied a trademark by a federal tribunal.
  • Justice Elena Kagan wrote: “The statute, on its face, distinguishes between two opposed sets of ideas: those aligned with conventional moral standards and those hostile to them; those inducing societal nods of approval and those provoking offense and condemnation.”
  • When determining whether to grant a trademark, the Patent and Trademark Office must determine whether “the public would find the trademark in question shocking to the sense of truth, decency, or propriety.”
  • In regards to “FUCT,” an appeals board found the name was “highly offensive” and “vulgar.”
  • Kagan wrote in the court’s opinion that the existing law violates the First Amendment.
  • Justice Samuel Alito wrote: “Viewpoint discrimination is poison to a free society,” and added “the court must remain firm on this issue, during a time when free speech is under attack.”
  • The Trump administration has agreed with the law and said “that it encouraged trademarks that are appropriate for all audiences.”

Reference Links

  • AP: High court strikes down ‘scandalous’ part of trademark law READ
  • Fox: Supreme Court strikes down ban on scandalous trademarks, in dispute over ‘FUCT’ clothing line READ
  • NPR: Supreme Court Strikes Down Ban On Trademarking ‘Immoral,’ ‘Scandalous’ Words, Symbols READ
  • ABC: Supreme Court sides with designer over allegedly offensive trademark READ

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