Thursday, April 23, 2015

Trademarks, the Redskins, the Slants, and the NAACP

As a former resident of the Washington, DC area, I have a natural interest in following the brouhaha over the football team's name, which some consider to be disparaging. In one skirmish, the trademark of the Redskins name has been invalidated, although that decision is under appeal. The ramifications? If the trademark is invalidated, then anyone and everyone has the right to produce Washington Redskins products, and the team can't do anything to stop them. Opponents of the name believe that this financial pressure will cause team owner Dan Snyder to change the team name to something that can be trademarked.

But this issue goes beyond football. As Courthouse News Service notes, this can also affect music trademarks.

Simon Shiao Tam had applied with the U.S. Trademark Office to register the mark "The Slants," which is the name of the Asian-American dance-rock band for which he is the front man.

The application included images of the band name set against Asian motifs.

Finding the mark disparaging to people of Asian descent, the examining attorney refused to register it.

The Lanham Act provides that the trademark office may refuse to register a trademark the "may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute."

Never mind the fact that Simon Shiao Tam is a member of the race that is being disparaged. The trademark office is color-blind. If Dan Snyder can't do it, Simon Shiao Tam can't do it, either.

So, what other trademarks could be lost by their current owners? Take a trademark that has been around longer than the name of the Boston/Washington Redskins. Details here:

There may be a number of proprietary logos, service marks, trademarks, slogans and product designations found on this SITE, including but not limited to: The NAACP name and seal.

This language does not clarify whether "the NAACP name and seal" comes under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Trademark Office. However, other language indicates that "National Association for the Advancement of Colored People" is a trademark - and the trademark has been defended in court.

Color me not surprised.
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