Published 02/01/2018 by
The Lanham Act: Disparagement Provision Violates the First Amendment
On June 19, 2017, the Supreme Court made a decision in Matal v. Tam (previously known as Lee v. Tam). The case addressed the issue of whether or not the Lanham Act’s disparagement clause impeded on trademark applicants’ First Amendment rights.
The case’s history can be traced back to front-man Simon Tam’s application to register his band name The Slants, filed in 2011. As his application progressed through the registration process, it was rejected by the examining attorney, who cited the Lanham Act’s prohibition of trademarks that “may ‘disparage...or bring...into contemp[t] or disrepute’ any ‘persons, living or dead’” U.S.C. §1052(a). However, Tam claimed that his intentions were not to disparage, but to reclaim the term and express pride in his Asian heritage. In response to the denial of his application, Tam appealed before the Federal Circuit, whose final decision recognized the disparagement provision of the Lanham Act as unconstitutional. For this reason, the Federal Circuit expressed that Tam should be granted his trademark registration for The Slants. However, the Patents and Trademark Office still did not agree that Tam should be granted his mark, and the case was then appealed and presented before the Supreme Court.
On January 18, 2017, oral arguments were heard before the Supreme Court, and a decision was made on June 19, 2017. The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the Federal Circuit’s decision that the Lanham Act’s disparagement provision is unconstitutional, violating the applicant’s right to free speech. This decision was made upon the arguments of viewpoint-based discrimination and commercial vs. expressive purpose of a mark. Although perceived as offensive to some, prohibiting such marks silences a viewpoint, and with trademarks being considered private speech rather than government speech, the silencing of these viewpoints is considered a violation of the First Amendment. Furthermore, because the Government and its programs are obliged to adhere to viewpoint neutrality, commercial speech (i.e. trademarks) is no exception, regardless of the speech’s expressive aspect. The disparagement provision automatically muffles a viewpoint albeit disfavored, and therefore, all trademarks—even those perceived to be offensive—are at the very least entitled to a chance of becoming registered.
This Supreme Court decision redefined the Lanham Act and its boundaries. The disparagement provision can no longer be used as a basis for rejection of a U.S. trademark application due to its violation of the First Amendment. It excludes the government from deciding what is considered moral and immoral, leveling the field for trademark applications and granting applicants the chance to protect their names.
Full decision can be read here: Matal, Interim Director, United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Tam
Marin11/18/2015 6:11:11 PM
PTAB Decisions Give Examples of Patent Eligible Subject Matter
Marin11/18/2015 6:15:40 PM
Covered Business Method Claims Are Not Required to Particularly Target Financial Industry
Marin11/18/2015 7:31:35 PM
When Is a Thesis Prior Art?
Marin11/19/2015 2:13:05 PM
An Innovator’s Dilemma: Design or Utility Patent?
Marin1/28/2016 9:10:56 PM
How Unpredictability Can Affect Obviousness Challenges
Marin1/28/2016 9:15:16 PM
The Patent Trial and Appeal Board Designates Two Decisions as Precedential
M. Cionca and I. Kim2/4/2016 5:55:16 PM
Software Inventions Are Still Patentable!
Marin Cionca2/16/2016 6:34:53 PM
In IPRs, patentees have to show that substitute patent claims are patentable
I. Kim PhD2/26/2016 8:47:51 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court Will Review Claim Construction Standards and Institution Decision Reviewability.
Iris Kim, PhD3/25/2016 8:34:14 PM
Challenging a Claim’s Validity with Different Standards of Claim Construction
Marin Cionca5/17/2016 8:57:23 PM
Patent Claims Rejection Based on Inherency
Iris Kim, PhD6/1/2016 7:04:50 PM
The Patent Trial and Appeal Board Designates Five More Decisions as Precedential
Marin Cionca9/6/2016 9:26:12 PM
Patent Case Law: New Example of Software as Patentable Subject Matter
Marin Cionca9/15/2016 9:47:39 PM
Patent Law Alert: Federal Circuit Opens Door for More Software Patents
Marin Cionca2/21/2017 12:30:52 AM
Software Patent Law Update: Federal Circuit Finds Graphical User Interface Patentable
Marin Cionca4/25/2017 9:48:49 PM
Monetization of Patents: How to Make Money with Patents
CIONCA - Staff6/15/2017 5:32:14 PM
Patent Law: Challenging the Patent Claim Definiteness Requirement
CIONCA - Staff6/28/2017 8:26:07 PM
Patent Law: Conditions Precedent May Expose Method Claim to Broad Interpretation During Prosecution
CIONCA - Staff8/9/2017 5:39:58 PM
Patent Case Study: The Novelty Of An “Invention” Is NOT Enough To Make It Patentable
CIONCA Staff8/20/2017 3:16:11 PM
CIONCA on Patents: Think Twice Before Suing for Patent Infringement and Fight Back when Unreasonably Sued
staff9/15/2017 9:33:30 PM
staff9/27/2017 5:00:12 PM
Claim Indefiniteness During Patent Pre-Issuance: Define Your Invention, Not Just Your Audience
staff9/27/2017 5:12:07 PM
CIONCA - Patent and Trademark Law Attorney
Staff9/28/2017 7:27:22 PM
Staff11/3/2017 4:20:04 PM
An Introduction to Provisional Patent Applications
11/10/2017 6:47:44 PM
An Introduction to Design Patent Applications
11/17/2017 1:24:20 PM
An Introduction to Patent Searches
12/1/2017 8:01:27 PM
An Introduction to Patent Cooperation Treaty Applications
12/26/2017 6:04:25 PM
CIONCA Sets Foot in San Francisco
1/2/2018 7:47:09 PM
CIONCA Team1/17/2018 8:12:06 PM
A Fork in the Road: Production or Protection?
CIONCA Team2/16/2018 4:07:48 PM
Fashion and Intellectual Property
3/8/2018 1:25:46 PM
Proceed with Caution: Consider Carefully when Narrowing Claims for Allowance
3/20/2018 12:50:05 PM
Andrei Iancu - New Director of the USPTO
CIONCA Staff4/13/2018 9:10:04 PM
It Take Two to Tango: Knowles v. Iancu, a Standing Dispute in a PTAB Decision
CIONCA Staff4/20/2018 5:25:25 PM
USPTO Changes Examination Procedure Pertaining to Subject Matter Eligibility in View of Berkheimer v. HP, Inc.
5/4/2018 7:37:51 PM
The Hague System for Protection of International Designs
CIONCA IP5/17/2018 9:54:58 PM
Marin Cionca Presents at OCIPLA May 2018 Luncheon
7/3/2018 7:44:33 PM
Impax Laboratories Inc. v Lannett Holdings Inc. on Claim Invalidation
Marin Cionca7/31/2018 6:50:05 PM
My patent expired? Can I still sue for patent infringement?
Staff8/16/2018 4:24:01 PM
Correcting or Changing a Patent After Issue Through the Central Reexamination Unit
Staff8/31/2018 7:26:58 PM
Patent Claim Interpretation By Federal Circuit's on Facebook's Contiguous Image Layout
CIONCA Team Member9/17/2018 4:33:20 PM
Trademarks and Likelihood of Confusion: Federal Circuit’s Decision in In re: Detroit Athletic Co.
Marin Cionca10/1/2018 7:42:12 PM
Can I Register a Color as a Trademark or Service Mark?
CIONCA Team Member10/16/2018 6:50:31 PM
A Double-Edged Sword: Benefit of Priority or Longer Patent Term
Marin Cionca, Esq.
Registered Patent Attorney
USPTO Reg. No. 63899
About our IP law firm: We are an Orange County, CA based boutique intellectual property firm with a focus on patent and trademark application, prosecution and opinion services, offering its IP services primarily at flat fee rates. We serve local OC clients, as well as clients throughout US and international clients.
We’d love to hear from you…we just need a little info
about your plans to take over the world!
P.S…Feel free to call us! (800)985-9198
Thank you for your message. We will respond within 24-72 hours. Thank you.