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Supreme Court rules in favor of L.A. clothing maker, striking down provision against 'scandalous' trademarks

David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a Los Angeles clothing maker had a free-speech right to win trademark protection for his FUCT brand.

The court said the government could not reject a trademark claim because it viewed the words or messages as "scandalous."

"The most fundamental principle of free speech law is that the government can't penalize or disfavor or discriminate against expression based on the ideas or viewpoints it conveys," said Justice Elena Kagan for the court.

Two years ago, the court ruled for an Asian band that called itself the Slants and struck down the part of the trademark law that prohibited the use of "disparaging" words.

Brunetti has been selling his clothes since 1991. He applied to register his trademark in 2011 and sued after being turned down by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Based on the ruling in the Slants case, a federal appeals court ruled for Brunetti last year and said the ban on "scandalous" words violated the 1st Amendment.

 

The Justice Department appealed the case of Iancu vs. Brunetti. During the oral argument, the justices sounded conflicted over whether the government must give official protection to a four-letter word as a brand.

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