Texas Tech University

SCOTUS Ruling on Trademark Protection Could Have Wide-Ranging Ramifications Across a Multitude of Applications

George Watson

June 19, 2017

Ann Rodriguez is available to discuss the ruling and the ramifications it could have going forward.


Three years ago, the United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled six federal trademarks belonging to the Washington Redskins, saying the trademarks violate rules that prevent trademarks from disparaging individuals or groups.

On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal law that denies trademark protection of terms that disparage persons living or dead. The ruling came from a case filed by the band "The Slants," founded by Asian-American musician Simon Tam, who wanted to take back the term that has been used as an insult by registering the band's name with the trademark office.

Ann Rodriguez
Ann Rodriguez

Texas Tech expert Ann Rodriguez, an associate professor of business law in the Texas Tech University Jerry S. Rawls College of Business, is available to discuss the ruling and the ramifications it could have going forward, including those involving the football team in Washington, D.C.


Ann Rodriguez, associate professor of business law, Jerry S. Rawls College of Business, (806) 834-6102 or

Talking Points

  • The subjective nature of the federal trademark protection process to begin with brings into play the contrast between what is legal and what is ethical.
  • The considerations involved really do cut to the core of First Amendment free speech protection and speech content consideration.
  • The ruling opens the door for more similar trademark applications, which is another slippery slope, and certainly for the reconsideration of past denials, like that of the Washington Redskins


  • "Today's ruling immediately brought to mind something that I tell my business law students often, and that is that the law does not codify ethics. In other words, what is legal, and what is generally thought to be ethical, are, really, two different things. The job of the law is not necessarily to say what is " right' in any given situation. That is more often a subjective decision for individuals and organizations to determine on their own."
  • "Particularly, the debate around the Washington Redskins ruling ought to remind us that the law and business are often intimately linked. If the National Football League itself wanted the Redskins to change the mascot, then it almost certainly could force such a change, as did the NCAA in many instances since 2005, as a member organization having the power to do so. The NFL issues are even more tied to business decisions given its profit sharing among member organizations. For the Washington Redskins, it is not merely a legal or free expression issue, but a business one as well with potentially millions of dollars at stake, regardless of the stance taken."

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