Friday, March 25, 2011

Is the PTO Too Sensitive Regarding Scandalous Trademarks?

The Lanham Act prohibits registration of scandalous marks. 15 USC §1052(a). But I'm wondering whether the PTO is a bit too touchy and sensitive. Take The Slants, for example. This is an Asian-band based in Portland, Oregon seeking to register its trademark with the PTO. But, to date, it has received two office actions rejecting the application on the grounds the mark is scandalous and disparaging to Asians. See the article in The Oregonian here. For the PTO's take on the matter, search under Ser. No. 77952263 on the PTO's website. The PTO maintains that The Slants disparages the facial features of Asians. The band argues that the mark celebrates the heritage of Asians. The trademark examiner cites to a dictionary definition of slant, plus some public complaints. The Slants counter with positive statements from Asian community members.

The TMEP explains that Congressional legislative history does not define what is "scandalous." Rather, the TMEP provides that a scandalous mark is determined by public standards.
The determination of whether a mark is scandalous must be made in the context of the relevant marketplace for the goods or services identified in the application, and must be ascertained from the standpoint of not necessarily a majority, but a “substantial composite of the general public.” TMEP 203.01.
The trademark examiner may not be on strong ground relying on a dictionary definition of slant, since a dictionary merely provides a word definition and not evidence of general public standards or mores. Similarly, the PTO's reliance on some negative comments is not dispositive and may not carry the PTO's burden of proof.

At the same time, positive statements from some community members may not carry the applicant's burden of proof, either. It appears that a community survey may be needed.

What do others think about this? Is The Slants a scandalous mark? Is it so socially objectionable to the general public to qualify as scandalous? Or, is the mark merely edgy, or boorish, or not offensive at all? Let me hear your comments.

No comments: