Lee v. Tam


Supreme Court columns

SCOTUS Declares That the PTO Is Not A Safe Space

John Shu June 26, 2017

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court released its opinion, Matal v. Tam, previously known as Lee v. Tam, regarding viewpoint discrimination and the First Amendment. The name changed when Michelle Kwok Lee,[1] the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (“PTO”) director at the time of the original lawsuit and appeals, resigned and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross appointed Joseph Matal as interim PTO director on June 7, 2017.

The heart of the case was whether the PTO could deny registration to those trademarks which it deems “may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute” (emphasis added) under § 2 of the Lanham Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a).[2], [3]  The trademark in question was the name of a dance-rock band, “The Slants,” of which Mr. Simon Tam and his fellow band members, all Asian-Americans, belonged. In other words, did the Lanham Act authorize the PTO to make an offense-free “safe space” out of trademark applications? [Read More]


First Amendment monument

[VIDEO] Lee v. Tam: "Disparaging Trademarks and the First Amendment

Timothy Courtney January 18, 2017

Can the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) deny a trademark to a group with an offensive name - or does the First Amendment invalidate the provision of trademark law under which the denial was made? Attorney and legal commentator John Shu explains the dispute between the PTO and an Asian-American rock band seeking to trademark the name “The Slants” in the case Lee v. Tam. The Supreme Court will hear oral argument today.