The Slants versus U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

"Chinatown Dance Rock" band continues the fight to trademark its name.

I've been aware of The Slants and their trademark woes for several years now. The Portland-based "Chinatown Dance Rock" band (think New Order, Joy Division, The Killers, with an Asian American twist) has been trying to register their name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, only to be rejected multiple times on the grounds that "slants" is a disparaging term for people of Asian descent.

The thing is, if you know anything about The Slants, they are an Asian American rock band through and through. The band members are Asian American. Their music caters to an Asian American crowd. The content of their songs are politically empowering. "The Slants," among other things, is an attempt to reclaim the slur. Hell, for what it's worth, I've even lent my name to legal documents in support of the band's name.

However, none of the band's exhaustive reasoning seems to be relevant to the Trademark Office. So The Slants are taking their fight to the next level. And their plight is starting to pick up attention from mainstream media outlets like NPR's Code Switch:

When the band members said they were reclaiming the term in 2009, the case was refused by the patent office, which said the name was disparaging. (The officials cited internet sources, including Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia in their explanation.) Tam and his crew also argued that "slant" has many meanings, and that it's not necessarily derogatory in every context. The Slants have claimed that their name is a reference to musical chords. As part of their defense, they had two professors survey Asian-Americans around the country about the potential offensiveness — or lack thereof — of the name, and they also had Duke linguist Ronald Butters pen a report analyzing the word.

But no dice. "The intent of an applicant to disparage the referenced group is not necessary to find that the mark does, in fact, disparage that group," the trademark office ruled of the initial trademark application from 2009. Here's how Tam said he and the band responded:

"The term 'slant' means a lot of different things. And [the lawyer from the PTO] even acknowledged that, so [we asked], 'Why did you choose to apply the racial connotations to this application, but you've never done that before in the entire history of this country? Why this case?' And they said it was because I was Asian-American."
The logic is ridiculous. As for the next phase in The Slants' quest to protect their name, they're taking their case to a federal circuit court and arguing that the trademark denial violates their First Amendment rights.

Meanwhile, The Slants have a Change.org petition calling out the United States Patent and Trademark Office for denying their rights as Asian Americans. To learn more, and to sign the online petition, go here: Stop the Trademark Office from Denying Rights Based on Race.

More here: Asian-American Band Fights To Trademark Name 'The Slants'

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