Thursday, September 29, 2016

NFL Football Team and Rock Band Offensive?Supreme Court to Hear Trademark Case
The case involving the name of an Asian-American rock band, could have implications for the Washington Redskins
(left) Washington Redskins Quarterback, Kirk Cousins and NY Giants Quarterback, Eli Manning chat after a game.
(right) Portland, Oregon rock band, The Slants in legal battle over trademark of name.

 In a case involving an Oregon band called “The Slants”, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether a federal law, the 1946 Lanham Act, barring trademarks on racial slurs violates free speech rights.  In its September 29th article, “Supreme Court to Hear Trademark Case”, the Wall Street Journal discusses the case and its relation to the high-profile dispute over the name of the NFL's Washington Redskins.

The case started when the band and the team separately lost rulings at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  An agency ruling refused to grant trademark protection for the band's name in 2013, stating it was offensive to people of Asian descent.  However, when a Federal Circuit ruling last year sided with the Portland-based Asian-American rock band in its free-speech challenge to the law governing federal trademarks, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the arguments and decide on the case.  Though it might lead to more hateful trademarks in the future, the lower court said, the First Amendment forbids government from banning offensive speech.
However, the federal government asked the Supreme Court to hear its appeal of the ruling in the band case, saying that if not overturned, the decision would allow trademarking the most vile racial slurs.  Such registration, however, can help protect trademarks nationwide in court and block the import and sale of counterfeit goods.
It is well known that the Redskins have also challenged the law, arguing it violates the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of free speech. The Supreme Court has not ruled on the Redskins case, so it could further be considered or denied later.  The Slants lead singer, Simon Tam, debated that the band adopted the name to reclaim what was once a racial slur into a “badge of pride”.
In the Redskins' 2014 dispute, the court canceled the team's six trademarks at the request of Native American activists on grounds that the team name ridiculed Native Americans.
Obama’s administration said the 1946 law does not restrict speech because the disputed names may still be used without federal registration. The Redskins, one of the National Football League's premiere franchises worth $2.4 billion, adopted the name Redskins in 1933 while in Boston before moving to Washington in 1937, and finally trademarked the name in 1967.
The Slants' case should be decided by June 2017.  So will this case set a precedent? Trademarks are integral to marketing and although this is a U.S. case, the impact of the ruling could be felt worldwide and for international marketers.  After all, the case is centered around ethnicity which ultimately relates to culture. Will this ruling impede strides in cultural sensitivity? How will marketers delineate that which is offensive and not offensive for their domestic and international target market? And what about the trademarks already registered for Yellowman, Red Man, Black Tail, and Jap?  Does the Trademark office have the authority to refuse to grant a trademark on what it may deem "racial" or is Its role simply to decide if the mark has already been registered or not?   What are your thoughts?
Blog Post by: Ally M.


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