US Supreme Court to hear The Slants trademark appeal

WASHINGTON • The United States Supreme Court said on Thursday it would hear an appeal of the trademark refusal for rock group The Slants on grounds it was a racial slur against Asians.

Simon Tam, the Asian-American founder of The Slants, tried to register the name of the band with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

But the government agency refused the registration, citing federal law against disparagement. It has argued that "The Slants is a highly disparaging reference to people of Asian descent".

The musician and his lawyers argue that the trademark refusal violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution protecting freedom of speech. The Slants are an Asian-American dance-rock band that "fuses art with activism", according to the website of the Oregon-based group.

"The Slants are and always will be a voice for the next generation of Asian-American musicians, artists and actors," it said on the website.

"If we win the Trademark it would be a HUGE step in the right direction for all minorities in the entertainment industry."

Tam argues that the patent office had allowed a similar move by trademarking NWA, after the pioneering gangsta rap group.

The acronym stands for Niggas Wit Attitudes, with the musicians trying to appropriate the slur against African Americans - shocking audiences in the 1980s.

The Supreme Court's ruling on the federal law barring racial slurs could impact a case involving American football team the Washington Redskins, which also was refused a trademark. Redskins is considered by some to be a pejorative term for Native Americans and there has been public pressure to change the name of the team in Washington.

Recent public opinion polls, however, show that most Americans want the team to keep it.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2016, with the headline 'US Supreme Court to hear The Slants trademark appeal'. Subscribe