Following Supreme Court Ruling, U.S. Patent Office Sees Influx of Offensive and Racist Trademark Requests

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So far, the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office has received seven trademark applications that include versions of the N-word. (Photo by Jeff T. Green/ AP Photo).

Swastikas, slurs and other racially charged terms could soon be accompanied by the trademark symbol, thanks to a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

On June 19, the court unanimously ruled to throw out a federal law prohibiting disparaging trademarks, paving the way for a handful of companies and individuals to register offensive terms and symbols for their products, Reuters reported.

Records from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office show that at least nine such applications have been filed since the ruling, seven of which include versions of the N-word. Other applications contained an epithet for Chinese people, as well as a swastika.

All applications are still pending, according to the wire service.

In the past, the office has typically rejected such filings because they contained material that disparaged a specific group. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the longstanding law violated the right to free speech that’s guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

If the applications are approved, everything from sweatshirts to water bottles and fragrances could be branded with racial slurs and symbols.

“We’re now opening the door, chipping away at what’s acceptable under cultural norms,” David Bell, an attorney and trademark expert with the law firm Haynes and Boone, told Reuters. “I think it could be a slippery slope, where you get more people and companies thinking, ‘This is okay.’ ”

The Trump Administration also had its reservations about axing the law and urged the high court to consider keeping it in place, according to Reuters. In a legal briefing, the Justice Department warned that if the Supreme Court struck down the provision, the PTO would have no choice but to trademark “the most repellent racial slurs and white supremacist slogans.”

The agency has since informed its employees that the federal disparagement law can no longer be used to reject certain trademarks.

Not all persons who filed applications for offensive trademarks were malicious in their intent, however.

San Francisco businessman Mike Lin, whose parents are Taiwanese, submitted a trademark application for a racial slur against Chinese people in an effort to “take back” the power of the word, Reuters reported. Oregon-based Asian rock band The Slants made the same argument when they tried to trademark their name in 2013. Their application was initially denied, but the court recently ruled in their favor.

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