WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a long-standing U.S. ban on trademarks on "immoral" or "scandalous" words and symbols, ruling in a case involving a clothing brand with an indelicate name that the law violates constitutional free speech rights. The justices ruled against President Donald Trump's administration, which defended the law that had been in place since 1905, and in favor of Los Angeles streetwear designer Erik Brunetti, who was turned down by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office when he sought to trademark his brand name FUCT. All nine justices agreed in the decision written by liberal Justice Elena Kagan that the prohibition on "immoral" trademarks ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment right to free expression. However, three justices wrote dissents to say the bar on "scandalous" trademarks should have been upheld. The Supreme Court followed a course it took in 2017 when it struck down a similar law forbidding the registration of "disparaging" trademarks in a case involving an Asian-American dance rock band called The Slants, a name federal trademark officials had deemed offensive to Asians.
High court set to issue decisions on gerrymandering and census citizenship questions; Shannon Bream reports from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court on Monday struck down part of a federal law blocking trademarks for names or logos bearing "immoral" or "scandalous" images -- including profanity and sexual imagery. The justices said in a unanimous ruling that the law violated the constitutional rights of designer Erik Brunetti. Registration for his clothing brand "FUCT" (pronounced as the individual letters F-U-C-T) had been denied by a federal tribunal. "The statute, on its face, distinguishes between two opposed sets of ideas: those aligned with conventional moral standards and those hostile to them; those inducing societal nods of approval and those provoking offense and condemnation," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the court's opinion.
Los Angeles artist Erik Brunetti, the founder of the streetwear clothing company "FUCT," poses for a photo in Los Angeles ON Thursday. A California man whose company carries a provocative name is hoping that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule against a trademark law that he says restricts his First Amendment rights. A lawyer for Erik Brunetti, owner of the "FUCT" clothing brand, will appear before the Supreme Court on Monday to challenge a federal trademarking law that allows officials to refuse trademarks that they deem "scandalous" or "immoral." Brunetti called the provision an unconstitutional restriction of speech that should be struck down. He also said that the underlying process is arbitrary, and that trademarks more offensive than his could be approved depending on who handles the case.
Erik Brunetti wants to be scandalous. A fashion designer and provocateur, Brunetti helped pioneer streetwear in the 1990s, selling clothes with profane and subversive messages through his brand Fuct. Brunetti has tried to register Fuct as a trademark, but the government won't let him, because federal law prohibits the registration of "scandalous" trademarks. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cited Urban Dictionary to prove that Fuct is the "past tense of the verb fuck" and therefore a "scandalous" vulgarity under the law. Now Brunetti is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down this statute, clearing the way for him to register his trademark at last.
A trademark dispute involving an Asian American band that calls itself the Slants has provoked a Supreme Court battle over the freedom of speech, political correctness and the government's refusal to sanction what it sees as a racial slur. The justices will hear arguments Wednesday over whether Congress and the Patent and Trademark Office may refuse to register trademarks that disparage people or their beliefs. Simon Tam, the band's leader, says he chose the name to co-opt and defuse a demeaning term that had been directed at Asian Americans. "We want to take on these stereotypes that people have about us, like the slanted eyes, and own them," he said when the case began. But when he applied in 2011 to register the band's name as an exclusive trademark, the trademark office refused.