Trademark registration denied for a racial slur

October 6th, 2013 by Joseph William Singer

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board refused to register “the Slants” as the name of an Asian-American band, despite its attempt to turn the name from an ethnic slur into a mark of pride. In re Tam, No. 85472044, 9/26/13. The federal trademark law prohibits registration of any mark that “may disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute persons, institutions, beliefs or national symbols.” 15 U.S.C. §1052(a). Even though the band sought to “take back” the ethnic slur by appropriating it (as happened with the term “queer” for gay people), the board refused registration because the derogatory meaning of the name was clear in context. The mere fact that the ones using the term were themselves East Asians did not automatically convert the term into one that was not disparaging. Note that the decision merely prohibits federal registration of the mark; it does not prevent the band from continuing to use the name and attempting to change views about its meaning.

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