The United States Patent and Trademark Office is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review its ongoing dispute with Portland rock band, The Slants.

The Slants (left to right: Joe X Jiang, Ken Shima, Tyler Chen, Simon "Young" Tam, Joe X Jiang). The band has toured and released several albums as the trademark dispute has unfolded.

The Slants (left to right: Joe X Jiang, Ken Shima, Tyler Chen, Simon “Young” Tam, Joe X Jiang). The band has toured and released several albums as the trademark dispute has unfolded.

Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns/Courtesy of Simon Tam

The P.T.O. has refused to register a trademark on the band’s name, citing racist connotations. The case has become a flash-point intersection of trademark law, public standards, and the flexibility of language.


The band has argued it’s reclaiming a term that for years stood as a slur. In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the band’s right to a trademark.

The P.T.O. says the federal government should not permit trademark protections for a word that is essentially a put-down.

Band founder Simon Tam says the band is still seeking a trademark, and hopes the Supreme Court will allow that.

“There’s no guarantee they’ll pick it up,” Tam said. “They’ll either let the federal circuit’s ruling stand or decide there’s something for them to review.”

Legal scholars have suggested there’s a good chance the court will want to explore the constitutional questions involved in the case. If the justices decide to review it, the absence of Antonin Scalia might change the potential outcome. The late Justice was a strong advocate for free speech.