An Asian-American rock band called the Slants found itself on the winning side of a Supreme Court case Monday. The justices ruled that a 71-year-old trademark law barring disparaging terms infringes free speech rights. The ruling is a victory for the Slants, but the case was closely watched for the impact it would have on the separate dispute involving the Washington Redskins in their legal fight over the team name. Slants founder Simon Tam tried to trademark the band name in 2011, insisting he wanted to transform a derisive term into a statement of pride, but the US Patent and Trademark Office denied the request on the ground that it disparages Asians. A federal appeals court in Washington later said the law barring offensive trademarks is unconstitutional; the prior administration then appealed, reports USA Today.
The Redskins made similar arguments after the trademark office ruled in 2014 that the name offends American Indians and canceled the team's trademark. A federal appeals court in Richmond put the team's case on hold while waiting for the Supreme Court to rule in the Slants case, reports the AP. Forbes calls the ruling "great" for the team. In his opinion for the court, Justice Samuel Alito rejected arguments that trademarks are government speech, not private speech. Alito also said trademarks are not immune from First Amendment protection as part of a government program or subsidy. USA Today observes that "the justices did not remove all discretion from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. But they raised the bar for trademark denials." (Read more trademark stories.)