Quang Trang, MJLST Managing Editor
In my opinion, Autumn is easily one of the top four seasons of the year. It is a season where pumpkin becomes a spice, the leaves change colors, I wear cardigans, and of course FOOTBALL. And yeah, the Supreme Court of the United States becomes a thing again.
During its next term, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear Lee v. Tam, a case that may determine the constitutionality of the U.S. Patent Office’s (“USPTO”) authority to refuse a trademark. The USPTO threw a yellow flag and refused to trademark the name of a band called “The Slants” after finding the name crossed an offensive line against Asians. The Slants threw a red flag challenge to have the decision reviewed. Under review, the Federal Circuit reversed the ruling on the field citing First Amendment protection. The USPTO Hail Mary’d the Supreme Court of the United States to protect its authority to reject offensive trademarks.
Under Section 2 of the Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. § 1052(a)), the U.S. Patent Office may refuse to register a trademark that “[c]onsists of or comprises a . . . matter which may disparage . . . persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” However, granting the USPTO such authority may violate the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” The Federal Circuit found the band’s name to be private speech, and thus entitled to First Amendment protection.
At this point you may be wondering “why is Quang making all these football puns?”, “Does Quang think his puns are funny?”, and “will he stop making bad puns?”
A Supreme Court decision in Lee v. Tam may intercept a case in the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit is currently reviewing the USPTO’s refusal to trademark the Washington Redskins after finding the name offensive and disparaging to Native Americans.
If the Supreme Court finds Section 2 of the Lanham Act unconstitutional, then the Fourth Circuit must overturn the USPTO’s refusal to trademark the Washington Redskins. However, if the Supreme Court limits its decision in Lee v Tam to the facts of the case or if the court affirms the USPTO’s ruling, then the Washington Redskins’ challenge may be sacked for good.
If the Washington Redskins loses its challenge, the organization may still keep the name and seek state trademark protection. The team would still be financially impacted if it loses federal protection against copycat merchandising. Changing the team name may then become a financial decision.