Asian-American Rock Band Denied Trademark For ‘Disparaging’ Name

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — An Asian-American rock band called “The Slants” is in town for a forum and concert at Duquesne University. The band wants to federally register its trademark, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has denied its application because the band’s name is disparaging. Was the federal government right to deny “The Slants” trademark application? That is the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court right now.

The band members are form Portland, Oregon and are all Asian-American. Simon Tam is the founding member and current bassist.

“I first thought of the name of the band when I started asking my friends what is something you think all Asians have in common and they would always say slanted eyes. I thought well that’s interesting and first of all it’s not true,” said Tam.

According to Tam, the name “The Slants” was not chosen to be disparaging.

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“I started thinking about why this false stereotype exists and what we could do to address it and I thought well The Slants makes sense. We can talk about our slant on life of what it’s like to be people of color navigating the music industry and being an American and also pay homage to the Asian-American activists who had been using the term “slant” in kind of this re-appropriated way for about 30 years now,” said Tam.

“They are fighting for the right to have a registered trademark at the federal level which provides certain benefits in terms of ability to sue and receive certain money damages. And then certain practical benefits of how you can license the mark and prevent others in all 50 states from using something similar,” said Dr. Jacob Rooksby, an intellectual property expert, Professor at Duquesne University School of Law.

The government’s position is that the trademark registration program and trademarks generally have not historically served as vehicles for expression; they are meant to identify the source. The law is set forth in the Lanham Act which states that registration can be refused if a trademark is disparaging. Dr. Rooksby believes the provision is too arbitrary and will be invalidated by the court.

According to Rooksby, “I think Simon Tam should win the case. They’ve made a compelling argument that this provision of the trademark law is unconstitutional and this is because it’s too arbitrary. How do you apply it? What is something that’s disparaging?”

While the court weighs the arguments, the band has released an EP titled “The Band Who Must Not Be Named.” A decision is expected by the end of June.

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