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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Asian-American rock band The Slants argued in court on Friday that its name is a healthy reappropriation of a term usually considered a slur and that the band should be granted a trademark despite government objections.
The case could have implications for a higher-profile fight over whether the Washington Redskins team in the National Football League should lose its trademarks.
The Slants, which plays hard-charging grunge music it calls Chinatown Dance Rock, applied for a trademark in 2010 and was rejected on the grounds the name disparaged Asians. It reapplied in 2011, without mentioning that it was an Asian band, but the examiner looked at the earlier application and rejected it again.
Federal law prohibits registration of disparaging trademarks.
Ronald Coleman, a lawyer who argued for The Slants in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, said that the name did not disparage Asian-Americans but sought to reclaim it, much like the lesbian motorcycle club Dykes on Bikes, which did get a trademark.
Arguing for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Molly Silfen said that nothing prevented the band from using the name, so free speech rights were not abridged, but the band had not shown evidence that the slur was reclaimed.
The case is a twist on a fight over whether the Washington Redskins should lose its trademarks because that name disparages Native Americans.
The NFL franchise, in its lawsuit against the five Native Americans who successfully convinced a government tribunal in June to cancel the trademarks, said the provision violates the First Amendment.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice told the court in the Redskins case it would intervene to defend the constitutionality of the Trademark Act’s disparagement provision.
The case is In Re Simon Shiao Tam, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, No 14-1203.
Reporting by Diane Bartz and Andrew Chung; Editing by Ted Botha and Grant McCool