BREAKING NEWS: Lanham Act Held Partially Unconstitutional
Today the United States Supreme Court held that the disparagement clause of the U.S. Trademark Act (also known as the Lanham Act) is unconstitutional. In Matal v. Tam (formerly Lee v. Tam, but Michelle Lee recently resigned as Director of the USPTO and was replaced with Acting Director Joseph Matal), the Court affirmed the Federal Circuit’s previous finding that the disparagement clause was unconstitutional.
The Government’s primary argument was that Federal trademark registrations somehow constitute government speech, and the government therefore should not be required to grant marks that are disparaging. However, the Court quickly dispatched this notion, stating:
…It is  farfetched
to suggest that the content of a registered mark is government
speech, especially given the fact that if trademarks become government
speech when they are registered, the Federal Government is
babbling prodigiously and incoherently.
The immediate effect of the ruling is that Simon Tam will be allowed to register the mark THE SLANTS for his rock band, The Slants. The secondary effect of the ruling is that the Washington Redskins will likely be allowed to keep its REDSKINS trademarks. I doubt there will be a flood of new registrations for disparaging marks because, quite frankly, those products just won’t sell well to the consuming public, and the market will ultimately decide which marks and how often companies pursue a registration for something that may be construed as disparaging.
The case is Joseph Matal, Interim Director, United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Simon Shiao Tam, Case No. 15-1293, June 19, 2017.
More analysis forthcoming. Stay tuned…