United States: Archer Wins Historic U.S. Supreme Court Victory In Federal Trademark Suit Vindicating First Amendment Rights Of 'The Slants'
Last Updated: June 28 2017

The Supreme Court of the United States reaffirmed the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to all Americans in handing down its 8-0 favorable decision in the high-profile Lee v. Tam case. The Supreme Court ruled that the Portland-based Asian-American rock band, The Slants, will be permitted to register their trademark, THE SLANTS, under The Lanham Act (also known as the Trademark Act of 1946).

A team of three Archer attorneys, including Ronald D. ColemanJohn C. Connell (argued), and Joel G. MacMull, represented musician Simon Shiao Tam in his successful defense of the ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in December 2015, which reversed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's refusal to register Mr. Tam's trademark under the disparagement clause of §2(a) of the Lanham Act.

The Supreme Court's ruling reaffirmed the Federal Circuit's decision that the government's denial was unconstitutional for violating the First Amendment noting, "We now hold that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend."

"Today's landmark decision is an overwhelming victory for Mr. Tam, the members of his band and the many advocates across the country who work so tirelessly to preserve our First Amendment rights," said John C. Connell, partner and chair of both the appellate advocacy and communications law groups at Archer. "This win is relevant to the Washington Redskins football team case, as well as all individuals, businesses and organizations that are advocates for free speech. The debate over the propriety of language may continue, but only where it belongs: in the crucible of open, wide-ranging public discourse, unimpeded by the government acting as the arbiter of what is and is not permissible speech."

Under the ruling, the decision will likely put an end to the statutory bar that precluded an applicant from obtaining registration of a trademark that was deemed offensive by the government. Additionally, the verdict provides clarity on the disparagement provision, which Archer's attorneys successfully argued was, in addition to violating First Amendment considerations, too vague and imprecise in its language and application to be constitutional.

"The firm has been providing pro-bono legal services to The Slants since spring of 2015, and we are thrilled that our efforts have achieved a significant legal policy resolution supporting freedom of speech issues across the country," said Ronald D. Coleman, partner and lead trademark attorney at Archer.

This case is considered to be one of the most important matters before the Court this term. The full Supreme Court opinion can be found here

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