SCOTUS Rules the Lanham Act’s “Disparagement Clause” Violates Free Speech

Today, the United States Supreme Court overturned a provision of the Lanham Act that disallowed registration of terms or phrases that “may disparage” persons in Matal v. Tam. The Supreme Court ruled that the so-called “disparagement clause” of the Lanham Act violated the free speech provisions of the First Amendment.

The case centered on musician Simon Tam, who was denied federal trademark registration for the name of his band, The Slants, under the Lanham Act’s disparagement clause. Tam, an Asian man, argued that he intended to reclaim the “slants” slur and “drain its denigrating force as a derogatory term for Asian persons” by initiating legal proceedings that challenged the PTO’s ruling. The ensuing legal proceedings hinged largely on First Amendment considerations, as well as whether interpretation or nuance should play a role in the PTO’s enforcement of the Lanham Act. Ultimately, the Supreme Court was unmoved by the Government’s argument and held that the disparagement provision of the Lanham Act is unconstitutional.

For questions and more details on the ruling, please contact a member of Ulmer’s Trademark and Copyright Litigation Group.