A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the government can’t refuse to register trademarks that might be considered disparaging or offensive, a decision that could bolster the Washington Redskins in their legal fight over the team name.
The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit sided with an Asian-American rock band called The Slants, which has spent years trying to register the name. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had refused to give it legal protection on the ground that it disparages Asians.
Writing for a nine-judge majority, Judge Kimberly Moore said the First Amendment protects “even hurtful speech that harms members of oft-stigmatized communities.” She said a federal law barring offensive trademarks is unconstitutional.
“Whatever our personal feelings about the mark at issue here, or other disparaging marks, the First Amendment forbids government regulators to deny registration because they find the speech likely to offend others,” Moore said.