On June 24, in a 6-3 decision, the US Supreme Court overturned the ban on trademarks deemed “immoral” or scandalous”.
In 1991, Eric Brunetti, founder of Los Angeles streetwear clothing line FUCT had his trademark request rejected by the US Patent and Trademark Office citing the Lanham Act. The Act allows regulators to deny a trademark registration if it consists of or comprises “immoral or scandalous” matter.
In its majority opinion, the court held that such a prohibition violates the First Amendment right to free speech. “The first amendment does not allow the government to penalize views just because many people, whether rightly or wrongly, see them as offensive,” said Justice Elena Kagan when announcing the decision.
This ruling finishes what was started two years ago in another free speech case brought by an Asian band called the Slants. The band challenged the ban on “disparaging” remarks and the court ruled in their favor, striking down part of the trademark law.
The Brunetti case showed that the Lanham Act “disfavors certain ideas” and in so doing violates the First Amendment. Therefore, trademarks cannot be censored because they are perceived as vulgar or offensive.
For more information contact the attorneys at Ference & Associates.