Asian American Indie Band Swears Their Name Isn’t Racist
  • by Audrey Magazine
  • October 22, 2013
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Story by Young Rae Kim.

The Asian American band, The Slants, have been unsuccessful in trying to trademark their name. For four years, the six-member rock band hailing from Portland, Ore., has been fighting with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), which has denied approval, saying the name is disparaging for people of Asian descent.

Simon Tam, the founder and bassist of The Slants, responded by saying that the PTO has rejected their request on the basis of their ethnicity, while a Caucasian band would not be denied this name, NPR reported.

The group, which describes its sound as “Chinatown dance rock,” have already had several attempts shot down by the PTO.

In 2009, the group attempted to “reclaim” the racist term and applied for a trademark with the patent office. However, they were denied approval, to which the band responded by saying that the term holds multiple meanings. For instance, they argued that in their case The Slants referred to musical chords.

However, the PTO ruled that the “The intent of an applicant to disparage the referenced group is not necessary to find that the mark does, in fact, disparage that group.”

The band tried again in 2011, but with a different approach. This time they claimed the name has nothing to with anything Asian.  However, it was refused for the second time.

 

Yet again, the band a now trying another tactic and are now preparing to take the case to federal circuit court, where they are claiming that their right to free speech has been violated. It will be another tough battle because the PTO does not forbid the band to call themselves The Slants, it just does not allow them to trademark the name.

The band is hoping the courts see it differently, and if not, the national attention from the legal battle won’t hurt them.

 

This story was originally published in KoreAm Journal

3comments

  1. This seems like more of a publicity stunt than anything else. As the article notes, there is nothing preventing the band from calling itself “The Slants.” And, the way one gets trademark protection is not by securing a registered trademark, but by openly and prominently using the mark so that the public associates it with you.

    • Hi Daniel,
      This isn’t a publicity stunt – believe me, no band would want to be tied up in a legal battle for four years. The article doesn’t dive into the details of the law or the legal briefs – I know, i’m in the band. We actually didn’t change tactics as suggested here; the NPR article said we changed “tacks,” a nautical term that means clarifying or narrowing. We submitted a “race neutral” application but when we were accused of disparagement, we asked the USPTO why they charged us with it but not the ~800 applications for ‘slant’ ever submitted. They said it was specifically because of my ethnicity. That’s why the article echoed the Trademark Office’s argument that anyone can trademark the term except for Asians.

      Without quibbling over trademark law too much, I should not that you can’t get a registered trademark without open/prominent use. However, a registered trademark is the best form of protection. Otherwise, you have much fewer legal protections (the closest is “likelihood of confusion”).

      Unfortunately, these fine details often get lost in translation, especially when an article is a summary of another article, which is a summary of the story itself. These things happen.

      Regards,
      Simon

  2. Hi,

    I just want to clarify something that’s in this article. You wrote: “The band tried again in 2011, but with a different approach. This time they claimed the name has nothing to with anything Asian. However, it was refused for the second time. Yet again, the band a now trying another tactic and are now preparing to take the case to federal circuit court, where they are claiming that their right to free speech has been violated.”

    That’s actually incorrect. There’s no new argument being brought before the Federal court – that’s just a request for an appeal. The argument is still the same, that the Trademark Office had no basis on making an accusation of disparagement based on my race and that they went out of their way to use improper sources to support their case (Wikipedia, UrbanDictionary.com, etc.). That’s been our case for the past few years. The first one was an evidence battle (current use of the term, Asian community’s response, etc.), the second on legal technicalities.

    For more information, se this article the actual legal arguments set forth:http://www.likelihoodofconfusion.com/update-and-clarifications-about-the-slants-appeal/

    Regards,
    Simon

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