Two recent decisions, one before the U.S. Supreme Court and one pending before the Federal Circuit have kept the United States Patent & Trademark Office (“USPTO”) busy writing Examination Guidance for Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act’s Disparagement Provision and Scandalous Provision. See Examination Guide 1-17. See also our webpage entitled, Trademarks That Falsely Suggest A Connection With Other Persons, where it is discussed that Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §1052(a) bars registration of trademarks that are immoral, deceptive, scandalous or if the mark falsely suggests a connection with other persons (living or dead), institutions, national symbols, or beliefs.
In Matal v. Tam, also known as “The Slants” case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the provision of the Lanham Act Section 2(a) which has denied federal registration to trademarks that disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute any persons living or dead is unconstitutional under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. This decision was issued on June 19, 2017. In this case, the applicant Simon Shiao Tam filed a trademark application with the USPTO for the name of his Asian-American rock band. The Slants are seeking to register the name for entertainment services in the nature of live musical performances. Mr. Tam was the lead singer of the band and he stated that he wanted to take back ownership of a word that created stereotypes in the Asian culture. See In re Simon Shiao Tam, 108 USPQ2d 1305 (TTAB 2013) [precedential].
The USPTO refused the application under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act as being disparaging and offensive to a substantial composite of people of Asian descent. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that the Disparagement Provision discriminates on the basis of viewpoint. Based on this decision, the Disparagement Provision of Section 2(a) is no longer a valid ground for refusal by the USPTO. The portions of the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure §1203 that relate to examination under the Disparagement Provision no longer apply.