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13 January 2015Trademarks

The Slants seeks to reclaim ‘disparaging’ term

A US rock band that was denied a trademark because it was labelled “disparaging” has appeared in court to try to overturn that decision by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

The Slants, an Asian American band, has claimed its trademark application of the same name is not offensive and that it wants to reclaim the phrase, which has been used as a racial slur against Asian people.

Its appearance at the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, on Friday (January 9), came during the latest episode in a five-year battle against the USPTO.

The band first applied for a trademark in 2010 but its application was rejected on the grounds that the name was disparaging to Asians. It reapplied the following year but, despite the band having Asian heritage, the USPTO again rejected its application.

In April last year it filed a complaint against the decision with the Federal Circuit, where the band will now attempt to convince the appeals court that the USPTO made incorrect decisions.

The USPTO said during arguments that the band had not provided evidence that it was reclaiming the term. The band did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The case bears a similarity to the continuing fight between the Washington Redskins, an American Football team, and a group of Native Americans.

Last year a group of Native Americans successfully convinced the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to cancel six trademarks containing variations of the term ‘Redskins’.

‘Redskin’ is a disparaging term for a Native American.

This year the football team will go head-to-head with the Native Americans, with the club set to argue that a provision of the US’s primary trademark statute, the Lanham Act, which bars offensive trademarks, violates free speech rules.

Yesterday, WIPR reported that the US Department of Justice had backed the Lanham Act’s validity in that case.

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More on this story

21 April 2015   A US appeals court has affirmed a decision from the US Patent and Trademark Office that rejected a trademark application for the phrase ‘The Slants’ on the grounds that it was disparaging.
22 April 2015   The founder of rock band The Slants has vowed to challenge a court ruling that backed the US Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to reject a trademark application for the band’s name on the grounds that it was “disparaging”.