the slants vs. u.s. patent and trademark office

Here's an article on Portland-based rock band The Slants, and their recent struggles with trying to officially their band name through U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The problem is, the government won't let them do it: Portland band the Slants and the United States government ask: What's in a name?

Basically, the government has repeatedly rejected The Slants' application on the grounds that it finds the band's name offensive and disparaging against Asians. Take note: The Slants are an Asian American band, their songs often deal with Asian American issues. They're clearly flipping the ethnic slur on its head. But trademark office isn't getting it:
One year, two rejections and a case file closing in on 200 pages later, it's clear there is an issue with the name. That issue is Section 2(a) of the 1946 Trademark Act. It says, in part, that a trademark can be rejected if it "consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage ..."

In the estimation of the trademark office's examining attorney, the band name Slants fits the description. But it's a complicated issue with a history of conflicting outcomes: The Washington Redskins have been able to hold on to their trademark despite lawsuits from Native American groups; the rap group N.W.A has a trademark. But, like the Slants, Heeb Media was denied a trademark on the grounds of Section 2(a).

"We deserve the right to protect our name," Tam says. "In the larger sense, minorities should have the right to label themselves."

The band can still call themselves the Slants. What the band can't get are the legal protections of a federally registered trademark.
It's all about context! But this is definitely not getting through to the people at the Patent and Trademark Office, and band's appeals have been unpersuasive, despite statements of support from Asian American community leaders. I've been talking to band, and have thrown in my own official statement of support for their next appeal.

Meanwhile, The Slants are gearing up their signature "Chinatown Dance Rock" sound for their national tour, which kicks off this Saturday in Portland. For more information about The Slants, their music, and show dates, go to the band's official website here.

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