Pattishall IP Blog

June 19, 2017

50 Years After Lanham Act’s Enactment, The Supreme Court’s Slants Decision Unanimously Holds Its Clause Barring Disparaging Marks Unconstitutional Under First Amendment; Far-Reaching Impact Will Cover The Washington Redskins and Likely Far Beyond

Filed under: Constitution, Litigation, TM Registration, Trademark (General) — Tags: , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 4:23 pm

By Belinda J. Scrimenti

As its 2016-17 term concluded, the U.S. Supreme Court held unanimously in Matal v. Tam[1] that the disparagement clause of the Lanham Act, Section 2(a), is unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause.  The clause at issue—a provision unchanged from the original 1946 enactment of the Lanham Act—prohibits registration of marks which “may disparage . . .  persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs or national symbols, or bring them into contempt or disrepute.” [2]  The Opinion of the Court, written by Justice Alito – joined in various parts by all of the Justices – reflected the sacred nature of the First Amendment protections at stake when applicants seek to register trademarks deemed offensive.  A concurring opinion by Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan, further highlighted the fundamental simplicity of the First Amendment protection that must be accorded trademark registration to prevent the slippery slope of governmental censorship.

The decision was issued in the case involving an Asian rock band seeking to trademark its name the “Slants,” which band founder Simon Tam asserts he selected in order “‘reclaim’  the term and drain its denigrating force as a derogatory term for Asian persons.”  But the decision’s repercussions will be much broader – most directly to the efforts by the Washington Redskins ownership to defend against longstanding efforts by Native American activists to cancel its trademark registrations under the same provision of the Lanham Act.

The Court’s opinion began with a primer on trademark law, outlining its history and origins, and purposes. Among the authorities cited were two articles by this Firm’s name partner, Beverly Pattishall, a highly recognized trademark expert of his generation.[3]  The Court also noted the now more than 2 million active marks on the federal register.  The Court next quickly dispensed with the argument put forth by Tam (which may have distinguished the case from that of the Redskins’ case, as cancellation actions brought by individual Native American persons) that the clause did not apply to Tam’s band name because the definition of “persons” included only “natural and juristic” persons, not “non-juristic” entities such as racial and ethnic groups.  Although Tam had not raised the argument in the Federal Circuit or on the writ of certiorari, the Court nevertheless expressed the necessity of rejecting this claim.[4]  The Court concluded that the disparagement clause did prohibit registration of terms that “disparage persons who share a common race or ethnicity.”[5]

The Court then turned to the fundamental issue of whether the clause violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.  The Court first rejected the Government’s arguments that the registration of trademarks constitutes government speech, not private speech.  The Court pointed out that if “private speech could be passed off as government speech by simply affixing a government seal of approval, government could silence or muffle the expression of disfavored viewpoints.”[6]  The Court concluded that “it is far-fetched to suggest that the content of a registered mark is government speech,” noting that if the federal registration makes a mark government speech, “the Federal Government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently.”[7]  Significantly, the Court noted the “most worrisome implication” of the Government’s argument concerned the copyright registration system, in that such a ruling could eliminate similar protections for books and writings based on the expressive content.[8]

In the next section of the Opinion, Justice Alito (joined by an unusual mix of Justices – Roberts, Thomas and Breyer) rejected the Government’s assertion that the clause should be upheld because it is “subsidized speech.” The Court handily rejected the argument, noting that the situation was readily distinguished from cases involving government cash or equivalent subsidies, because, in contrast, the trademark applicant must pay fees.[9]  The Court concluded that the clause also could not be protected as analogous to cases in which a unit of government creates a limited public forum for private speech where some content and speaker-based provisions may be allowed, noting that even in such situations “viewpoint discrimination” is forbidden.[10]

Having concluded that trademark registration is not government speech, Justice Alito’s Opinion next turned to the question of whether trademarks are commercial speech and therefore subject to relaxed scrutiny. Quickly dismissing the competing claims of the Government and Tam as to whether trademarks are all commercial speech or have an expressive component, he found that the disparagement clause failed even the relaxed test of a commercial speech restriction that must serve “a substantial interest” and be “narrowly drawn.”[11]  Justice Alito rejected as “substantial interests, the Government’s interest in preventing offensive speech as “that idea strikes at the heart of the First Amendment.”  Finally, he rejected the asserted interest in protecting the “orderly flow of commerce” as “far too broad.”

The concluding remarks by Justice Alito are particularly notable in this era of a super-charged political environment:  “The commercial market is well stocked with merchandise that disparages prominent figures and groups, and the line between commercial and non-commercial speech is not always clear, as this case illustrates.  If affixing the commercial label permits the suppression of any speech that may lead to political or social ‘volatility,’ free speech would be endangered.”[12]

The ramifications of the Court’s decision are yet to be seen.  The first, nearly certain result, will be the upholding of the Washington Redskin’s registrations in the face of challenge under Section 2(a).[13]  Less certain is the greater fallout.  Will the ruling open the floodgates for applications seeking registrations of any number of offensive, hateful and otherwise distasteful marks?  While recognizing the source and consumer protection functions of trademarks, Justice Kennedy noted in his concurrence that there remain only “a few categories of speech that the government can regulate or punish—for instance, fraud, defamation, or incitement . . . and a few other narrow exceptions.”[14]  It seems that the next wave of litigation in the trademark arena may now revolve around these narrow First Amendment exceptions, rather than traditional trademark principles.  Will today’s nasty tweet or violent Facebook rant become tomorrow’s trademark?  While the Tam decision decisively answers one question, it may open the door to many more questions of what trademarks are permissible, assuming no traditional trademark grounds for refusal.


[1] Matal, Interim Director, USPTO v. Tam, No. 15-1293 (June 19, 2017) (8-0 decision; Justice  Gorsuch took no part in the decision).  The full opinion can be found at:
[2] 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a).
[3] Slip Op. at 2-5. Citing, treatises and compendiums including 3 J. McCarthy, Trademarks and Unfair Competition §19:8 (4th ed. 2017); Pattishall, The Constitutional Foundations of American Trademark Law, 78 Trademark Rep. 456, 457–458 (1988); Pattishall, Two Hundred Years of American Trademark Law, 68 Trademark Rep. 121, 121–123 (1978), Id. at 2.
[4] All Justices concurred in this portion of the opinion with the exception of Justice Thomas who saw “no reason to address this legal question.”  J. Thomas concurring, Slip. Op. at 1.
[5] Slip. Op., at 11.
[6] Id. at 14.
[7] Id. at 14-15, citing Pro-Football, Inc. (Washington Redskins) Amicus brief and numerous examples of such phrases.
[8] Id. at 18.
[9] Id. at 18-20.
[10] Id. at 22.  But in dicta, the Court noted it left open the question of whether such analysis framework is appropriate for free speech challenges to the provisions of the Lanham Act.
[11] Id. at 23-24, citing Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Serv. Comm’n of N.Y., 447 U.S. 557 (1980), but leaving open the question of whether Central Hudson provides the appropriate test for deciding free speech challenges to provisions of the Lanham Act.
[12] Id. at 26.
[13] Pro Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse, Case No. 15-1874 (4th Circ.).
[14] J. Kennedy concurring, Slip. Op. at 2, citing United States v. Stevens, 559 U. S. 460, 468 (2010).


These materials have been prepared by Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP for general informational purposes only.
They are not legal advice. They are not intended to create, and their receipt by you does not create, an attorney-client relationship.

October 10, 2012

Pattishall Client Prevails On Counterfeiting and Infringement Claims Over Marks for Vehicle Braking Systems; Court Awards Over $13 Million in Damages, Attorneys’ Fees, Costs and Sanctions

Pattishall client Robert Bosch LLC (“Bosch”) was awarded judgment of over $13 Million by default on its claims of counterfeiting, infringement, unfair competition, and false advertising after nearly three years of litigation and “extensive and cumbersome discovery” in Robert Bosch LLC v. A.B.S. Power Brake, Inc., Case No. 09-14468 (E.D. Mich. August 2, 2012).  Pattishall attorneys Belinda Scrimenti, Bradley Cohn, Thad Chaloemtiarana, and Jeffrey Wakolbinger represented Bosch in this litigation in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan before the Honorable Patrick J. Duggan.

Specifically, Judge Duggan:

  • awarded Bosch $12,875,997.96; consisting of $3,931,220 in defendant’s profits (which the court trebled to $11,793,660), $993,309.00 in reasonable attorneys’ fees, and $89,028.96 in costs;
  • awarded Bosch $142,082.52 as a judgment for previously entered sanctions;
  • enjoined defendants from future use of Bosch’s HYDRO-BOOST and HYDRO-MAX marks in connection with hydraulic vehicle braking systems or remanufactured, reconditioned or rebuilt Bosch products; and
  • ordered the defendants to destroy all infringing products and promotional materials.

The Court’s opinion highlighted the difficulty of assessing actual damages given the actions of the defendants in discovery and found the Pattishall team’s method for estimating damages to be reasonable.  Relying on survey evidence of law firms nationwide, Judge Duggan also found Pattishall’s Chicago-based attorneys’ fees request reasonable and consistent with rates of comparably-situated firms in Detroit with large intellectual property practices under the traditional lodestar analysis.

The defendants’ alleged violations covered a range of activities, including manufacturing of counterfeit products sold under Bosch’s trademarks, use of identical and similar infringing marks on generic products, sale of refurbished Bosch products that failed to meet genuine Bosch specifications, and false advertising of refurbished hydraulic brake products as new, genuine Bosch products.

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October 26, 2011

Protecting Your Company Brands Against Sexually Explicit and Pornographic .XXX Domain Names – Deadline for Sunrise Period for Blocking Registrations is October 28, 2011

Filed under: Internet, Trademark (General) — Tags: , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 9:56 am

Categories: Trademark (General), Internet
Tags: Domain Names, Internet, ICANN, Belinda J. Scrimenti, Jasmine R. Davis

By Belinda J. Scrimenti and Jasmine Davis, Trademark Attorneys

[***Update – . XXX Domain Registry Has Received Over 42,000 Registrations – Deadline
for Sunrise Period for Blocking Registrations is October 28, 2011

ICM Registry, the registry handling .XXX top-level domain (“TLD”) registrations reported this week that it has received over 42,000 applications for .XXX domain names since the September 7, 2011 launch of the Sunrise Period “with thousands more pouring in each day.”  “We are very pleased, but not surprised, by this overwhelming response to the availability of .XXX domains,” said Stuart Lawley, CEO of ICM Registry.  The .XXX domain is intended solely for use by the “adult entertainment” industry.

ICM reported that the number of applications already received is over five times what ICM had anticipated.  ICM also reported that the applications have been “well balanced” between brand owners inside the adult industry and those non-adult brands that want to protect their trademarks.

Trademark owners outside the adult entertainment industry with registered trademarks have only until October 28, 2011 to take advantage of the sunrise period to file for a blocking registration that will prevent use of their trademarks in connection with pornographic uses.  If a trademark owner does not have a registered mark, or misses the deadline, it must wait until December 6, 2011 to file registrations to block others from using their marks in the .XXX domain.  See our August 18, 2011 blog post, below for details on the process.***] (more…)

August 18, 2011

Protecting Your Company Brands Against Sexually Explicit and Pornographic .XXX Domain Names – Sunrise Registration Period for Trademark Owners Begins September 7, 2011

Filed under: Internet, Trademark (General) — Tags: , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 12:15 pm

Categories: Trademark (General), Internet
Tags: Domain Names, Internet, ICANN, Belinda J. Scrimenti, Jasmine R. Davis

By Belinda J. Scrimenti and Jasmine Davis, Trademark Attorneys

Protecting your brand and trademarks from infringement and tarnishment by uses on pornographic and other unsavory websites just got more difficult.  As we reported in April, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) board approved the .XXX sponsored top-level domain (“sTLD”) name in March.  The .XXX domain is intended solely for use by the “adult entertainment” industry, and officially launches on December 6, 2011.  The goal of the domain was to identify the websites as containing sexually explicit content – thus readily allowing adults to discover or avoid such sites, and to control access by children.

The new .XXX domain, however, only leads to greater enforcement problems.  As the existence of the new domain is likely to increase the volume of sites associated with adult content, brand owners must now be concerned that others could use their trademarks to attract audiences to unrelated pornographic sites.  Therefore, to protect the vast majority of brand owners which are not in the adult entertainment industry, but which face the risk of use of their marks in new .XXX domains, ICANN has developed rules allowing such trademark holders to “block” registered marks from the .XXX domain. (more…)

April 8, 2011

The Likely Impact of a Federal Government Shutdown on the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Copyright Office, and Federal Courts

Filed under: Copyright, Litigation, TM Registration, Trademark (General) — Tags: , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 9:34 am

Categories: Copyright, Litigation, TM Registration, Trademark (General)
Tags: Federal Litigation, Belinda J. Scrimenti

by Belinda Scrimenti, Trademark, Copyright, and Litigation Attorney

Like many areas of commerce to be effected in the United States, the threatened government shutdown – currently scheduled for midnight on Friday, April 9, 2011 – will impact trademark owners, copyright applicants, and federal court litigants.  Immediately available information suggests that a brief shutdown would have little impact, but the impact of a longer shutdown is uncertain.  We will keep current status information posted here.

Patent and Trademark Office

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) has announced that, in the event the April 9, 2011 shutdown comes to pass, it will remain open and will continue to operate as usual for a period of six business days, through Monday, April 18, 2011.  The USPTO is able to keep its doors open because it has enough available reserves, not linked to the current fiscal year, to remain in operation until that date.  Should a shutdown occur and continue longer than the six-day period, the USPTO has advised that it “anticipate[s] that limited staff will be able to continue to work to accept new electronic applications and maintain IT infrastructure, among other functions.”  The USPTO has advised that it will continue to post information on its website as it becomes available. (more…)

October 27, 2010

USPTO Registers Unique “Non-Traditional” Service Mark: A 109-Word Narrative Story — Registration of The Peabody Hotels’ “Legend of the Ducks” Follows Earlier Motion Mark Registration of its Iconic Duck March

Filed under: Pattishall, TM Registration — Tags: , , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 4:13 pm

Categories: Pattishall Involvement, Trademark (General)
Tags: Andrew N. Downer, Belinda J. Scrimenti, Non-Traditional Marks, Trademark Prosecution, TTAB, USPTO

By Belinda J. Scrimenti, Trademark Attorney

The famous Peabody Hotels in Memphis, Orlando and Little Rock are known for their iconic March of The Peabody Ducks, in which trained mallard ducks, guided by the “Duckmaster,” delight audiences twice-daily.  A red carpet is rolled out, and the ducks leave their rooftop “penthouse,” proceed down an elevator, and march across the red carpet, up steps and into the beautiful fountains in The Peabody Hotels’ lobbies.  The ducks spend their days leisurely swimming in the fountain, and at day’s end perform the March in reverse and retire for the night.  The Ducks have appeared on numerous television broadcasts, including Oprah and numerous travel programs, and received enormous print publicity.

Knowing that the Duck March had become synonymous with The Peabody Hotels, the Hotels’ owner recognized the importance of protecting the valuable intellectual property of both the Duck March and “The Legend of the Ducks” – the 109-word story about how decades ago the Ducks came to march daily to The Peabody fountain. (more…)

March 9, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Federal Court Jurisdiction Over Copyright Infringement Claims For Unregistered Works: Reed Elsevier Inc. v. Muchnick

Filed under: Copyright — Tags: , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 5:58 pm

By Belinda J. Scrimenti, Esq.

Nearly nine years after its seminal decision regarding copyright law and electronic publication in New York Times Co. v Tasini,[1] the United States Supreme Court addressed jurisdictional issues arising from authors’ post-Tasini claims.  On March 2, 2010, the Court held in Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Muchnick,[2] that, while Section 411(a) of the Copyright Act makes registration a precondition to filing a copyright infringement suit, it is not a jurisdictional requirement.  The decision likely will lead to final resolution of an $18 million settlement in the underlying litigation.  The Supreme Court’s unanimous holding[3] reversed the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision,[4] which held that the district court lacked jurisdiction to certify a class and approve a settlement because some of the class members’ copyrighted works were unregistered. (more…)

May 13, 2009

Chicago Trademark Attorneys successfully conclude Federal court litigation to protect the Peabody Hotels’ Peabody name and famed marching ducks

Filed under: Dilution, Pattishall — Tags: — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 8:56 pm

Belinda Scrimenti represented the owner of the Peabody Hotels in the case filed in Memphis, Peabody Management, Inc. v. Peabody Painting and Waterproofing, Inc. (U.S.D.C. W.D. Tenn. No. 07-2675).  Concluding the case, Judge Bernice B. Donald recently entered a Consent Permanent Injunction that enjoins a national hospitality industry painting contractor from acts of trademark infringement and trademark dilution by use of the name “Peabody” and combinations of the Peabody name with a duck logo. Under the terms of the injunction, the defendant has a limited period to transition to a new name that will not incorporate the name “Peabody.”

Prior to the litigation, in addition to registering over 40 traditional word and duck logo and design marks on behalf of the Peabody Hotels, Ms. Scrimenti had successfully registered one of the most unique marks on the U.S. trademark register – the motion of the famous Peabody Hotel Duck March itself. (more…)

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