Monthly Archives: December 2015

Disparaging Trademarks: This Time It’s “Slants”

In what may prove to be a major First Amendment ruling in favor of offensive trademarks, a federal appeals court in Washington on December 22 said that the federal government may not refuse to register a trademark solely because it disparages certain people.

The case, In re Tam, arose in 2011 when “The Slants,” an Asian-American rock band, sought to trademark its name. The trademark office refused registration on the grounds that “slants” has long been a derogatory term for persons of Asian ancestry and hence was barred by a provision in the trademark act banning marks that disparage. The appeals court agreed that in this context “slants” is a slur but said, in effect, so what? Continue reading

Offensive Inoffensiveness: Tale of the Red Cup

A curious species of the penchant for feeling offended is what, henceforth, I will call “Offensive Inoffensiveness.” For the past several years a frenzied form of it pops up annually as the calendar heralds “the holidays.” I’m speaking, of course, of the War against Christmas. It all began, maybe, when too many hollow heads bewailed their shivers of irate agony on hearing people hail acquaintances with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” You can picture the encounter. Someone wearing green and white snowflake sweater waves in friendly gesture to neighbor: “Happy Holidays, Jensen,” said with smile. “Goddamn infidel,” Jensen snarls back.

This year promises new treats. High dudgeon honors, so far, go to two perpetrators of this seasonal outrage: Starbucks and the University of Tennessee. Continue reading