The Slants, whose members are of Asian descent, have amassed fans nationwide, taking the stage at dive bars, Asian festivals, anime conventions, and even serving on panels to discuss racial stereotypes.
But behind the scenes, the band is fighting a battle with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The office has twice denied The Slants’ request to obtain federal trademark registration of its name, or “service mark,” on the grounds that it is “disparaging to people of Asian ethnicity.”
The band denies that its name is offensive to Asians and is preparing to file a second appeal.
Good luck with that, fellows. I’ve addressed this issue before in the context of such charming would-be trademark registrations such as HEEB and NIGGA, rejected as scandalous and offensive by the same PTO that granted that coveted registration status to such fabulous acts as, uh, this and this, and this. And, of course, this.
All those thisses have to do with alternative lifestyles, once considered highly scandalous but now quite socially acceptable. Ah, but nicknames to describe those who so alternate? Perfectly fine when adopted by the object of former derision with “pride.”
That rule, however, does not apply to ethnic groups. As I said in the above-linked posts regarding the HEEB and NIGGA applications, racism remains the third rail of American bureaucratic practice — ironic self-descriptive pride notwithstanding.
Is there any good policy reason behind this? Or is it, as I suggested in the NIGGA post, merely a way to avoid even having to read, much less type out, the word “nigger” in a government building near Washington, DC?
That is not a good reason.
Originally posted April 7, 2011 on Ron Coleman’s LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION® blog on trademark, copyright and Internet law.