Marc Randazza about Section 2(a) changes

Marc Randazza shared his opinion regarding some recent First Amendment and Trademark cases.

15 U.S.C. § 1052(a) (known best as “Section 2(a)”) is a federal trademark law, which prevents certification of certain classes of marks that “may disparage” or can be “immoral or scandalous”. But at the beginning of the year, the Supreme Court found that prohibiting disparaging marks from being registered violates the First Amendment. So, Section 2(a)’s unconstitutional arrangements have finally fallen.

In his latest article on Popehat, Marc Randazza comments on two recent important cases: the Brunetti decision and the Tam precedent. Both cases include trademark registrations and the restrictions of Section 2(a). Since the Supreme Court struck down the disparagement clause, many people speculated whether the immoral or scandalous clause would survive.

Mr. Randazza notes that now, with Brunetti, we no longer need to speculate (if there is no appeal). Brunetti tried to register his trademark FUCT. But the United States Patent and Trademark Office declared that this mark is a synonym with “fuck,” making it sound vulgar, and thus conflicting with Section 2(a).

Now, the Federal Circuit has found that the “immoral or scandalous” restriction on registration is unconstitutional, a decision influenced by the Supreme Court’s Tam decision. The Brunetti court pronounced that the “immoral or scandalous” restriction was likely viewpoint-based.

The Tam decision tossed aside the government’s theories on censorship, that:

  1. Federal trademark registration scheme is a public forum that allows content-based restrictions on speech;
  2. The “immoral or scandalous” portion of Section 2(a) survived the lesser level of examination for restrictions on commercial speech.

In this case, the test was conducted. It was supposed to determine whether a mark is “immoral or scandalous” or if the general public would find the mark “shocking to the sense of truth, decency, or propriety; disgraceful; offensive; disreputable . . . giving offense to the conscience or moral feelings . . . or calling out for condemnation.”

But finally, after years of unconstitutional actions by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the trademarks registration process has changed and today there is no “immoral or scandalous” block.

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