Should “The Slants” be a Trademarked Name?

Portland, Oregon rock band The Slants’ attempt to trademark their name has been rejected by the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO), apparently because the department thought that the name was disparaging to Asian Americans.  In their application, the band’s attorneys submitted examples of Asian American media supporting the Slants and descriptions of the band’s involvements with Asian American cultural festivals and non-profits.

“This is a case where the government is making a decision about how members of a minority group can define themselves. The U.S. Government shouldn’t be in the business of making those kinds of decisions. The determination of whether a specific term or phrase is disparaging can only be made from the point of view of the referenced minority group.”

says Spencer Trowbridge of the law firm McNamer and Company, which represents the Slants.  Adds, Mari Watanabe, of the Oregon Nikkei endowment:

“As a Japanese-American, and lifelong activist within the Asian American community, I do not consider The Slants’ use of their name disparaging.  The name is being used in a self-referential manner, carrying a message that promotes Asian culture. This use does not disparage Asian identity; it celebrates it.”

The USPTO counters that while the band “may be laudable… rarely does an article introduce the band without commenting on the controversial nature of the band’s name.”   Indeed, 8Asians’ first article on The Slants highlighted their controversial name.

Is the band’s name a slur that should not be trademarked?  Is it just a publicity stunt?  Is it a celebration of Asian Americans, an ironic usage that seizes power from those who use it as a racial insult?  What do you all think?


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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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