Justices raise doubts over law barring offensive trademarks

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Photo of U.S. Supreme Court by Larry Downing/Reuters

Photo of U.S. Supreme Court by Larry Downing/Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is expressing doubts about a law that bars the government from registering trademarks that are deemed offensive.

The justices heard arguments Wednesday in a dispute involving an Asian-American band called the Slants that was denied a trademark because the U.S. Patent and Trademark office says the name disparages Asians.

The band says the 70-year-old law violates free speech rights. A federal appeals court ruled that the law is unconstitutional, but the government has appealed.

Justice Elena Kagan said it seemed like “a classic form of viewpoint discrimination.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said it wasn’t being enforced consistently.

But some justices were concerned that imposing no limits on trademark names would go too far.

A victory for the band would be welcome news for the Washington Redskins, embroiled in their own legal fight over the team name.

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