Offensive Speech

Supreme Court Hears Trademark Case Centered On A Seemingly Offensive Word

Erik Brunetti
Erik Brunetti, Los Angeles artist and streetwear designer of the clothing brand FUCT, stands for a portrait in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2019. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon

The Supreme Court is weighing whether the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office acted unconstitutionally when it denied granting a trademark to a clothing line called “FUCT.”

The case was brought by designer Eric Brunetti who created a clothing line in 1990 that prominently displayed the “FUCT” logo. Brunetti had been trying to obtain approval for a trademark since 2011, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has consistently denied his application. The agency contends that “FUCT” violates federal law that prohibits words that are “shocking” or “offensive” on trademarked material.

In 2017, the Supreme Court ruling in Matal v. Tan interpreted another provision of the trademark law, and  granted protection to an Asian-American band called “The Slants.” Founding member and singer Simon Tam had named the band “The Slants” in an attempt to neutralize the derogatory meaning of the term used for people of Asian descent. The trademark and patent office turned down the band’s application, and the Supreme Court ruled that the denial was tantamount to viewpoint discrimination.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision on the Brunetti case by this summer.

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