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Supreme Court rules rock band the Slants may trademark its name, striking down law banning offensive terms

Members of the band the Slants. (Anthony Pidgeon / Associated Press)
Members of the band the Slants. (Anthony Pidgeon / Associated Press)

The Supreme Court extended trademark protection on Monday to words and names that may be offensive, ruling that the 1st Amendment right to free speech allows an Asian American band to call itself the Slants.

The unanimous decision will also likely preserve the trademarked and controversial name of the Redskins, Washington’s professional football team.

In recent years, such trademarked names have come under attack as racially offensive. Since 1946, the U.S. trademark law has included a provision that barred the government from registering trademarks that may disparage people or groups.

The case of the Slants raised questions about government’s efforts to police names that may be offensive to one group or another.

Simon Tam, the leader of the Portland, Ore.-based band, said he chose the name to make fun of a word that had been used as a slur against Asians, and thereby to “drain” it of any derogatory impact, as the court put it.

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