Supreme Court to hear challenge to ban on profane trademarks

January 4, 2019

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide whether a federal law that blocks trademarks for brand names or logos bearing profane words or sexual imagery violates free speech rights in a case involving a clothing brand called “FUCT.”

The justices will hear the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s appeal of a lower court decision that the agency should have allowed fashion designer Erik Brunetti to trademark the “FUCT” brand name, which sounds like, but is spelled differently than, a profanity. At issue is a provision of U.S. trademark law that lets the trademark office deny requests for trademarks on “immoral” and “scandalous” words and symbols.

Trademark registrations enable entrepreneurs and companies to protect their brands and bring lawsuits against copycat products.

The Supreme Court in 2017 unanimously struck down a similar ban on derogatory trademarks in a case involving a Asian-American dance-rock band called The Slants. That case involved a law blocking federal trademarks for messages that may disparage people, institutions, beliefs or national symbols.

The Patent and Trademark Office in 2014 denied a request by Brunetti for a trademark on FUCT, saying the trademark would be perceived as equivalent to the profanity that it sounds like. Brunetti appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, which found that the ban “impermissibly discriminates based on content in violation of the First Amendment.”

The agency asked the Supreme Court to review that decision, arguing that “the First Amendment does not prohibit Congress from making vulgar terms and graphic sexual images ineligible for federal trademark registration.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Lawrence Hurley)

Vía One America News Network


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