Founder/bassist of “The Slants”
Partner, Hodgson Russ LLP
Christine Haight Farley
Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law
Crandall Melvin Professor of Law at Syracuse University College of Law
After hearing oral arguments on January 18, the Supreme Court is on course to decide a pivotal case concerning trademark law and the First Amendment: Lee v. Tam. The Asian-American rock band, The Slants, filed a trademark application for their band name, “The Slants,” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The USPTO initially refused to register the proposed mark, deeming it offensive to Asian-Americans in violation of a federal prohibition barring the registration of disparaging marks. The Slants’ founder, Simon Tam, appealed the decision, asserting that he did not violate the prohibition because he was reclaiming an offensive term on behalf of the very group historically disparaged by that term. Tam also argued that the prohibition on disparaging marks violates the First Amendment. A 2015 decision in the Federal Circuit found in Tam’s favor, stating that “the First Amendment forbids government regulators to deny registration because they find the speech likely to offend others.” The government petitioned for Supreme Court review, which was granted. Among the many issues at the stake in Lee v. Tam are whether the disparagement prohibition is unconstitutionally vague, whether the federal trademark registration program is “government speech,” and whether there is any legitimate purpose behind the registration program beyond preventing consumer confusion. The outcome of this case could impact another high-profile dispute over trademark registration: the litigation over the name of the NFL's Washington Redskins.
The founder/bassist of the band, Simon Tam, will be a panelist and will discuss his fight and very real perspective on the issues raised in this case. Also joining the discussion will be scholars and practitioners with an expertise in trademark law. This panel will be moderated by Professor Mark Bartholomew of the University of Buffalo School of Law. The panelists will discuss the path of this litigation’s path through the courts, the laws implicated in this case, the validity of the arguments presented by both sides, and the impact the decision will have on intellectual property practitioners in the future. The panelists will also share their view on the case’s broader implications for trademark, copyright, and First Amendment law. Join us for a moderated panel discussion followed by a Q & A session. There will be light food and beverages provided.