In re Pamela Geller and Robert B. Spencer

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s (TTAB) refusal to register the mark “STOP THE ISLAMISATION OF AMERICA” in connection with the services “providing information regarding understanding and preventing terrorism,” holding that the mark was disparaging to a group of persons.  In re Pamela Geller and Robert B. Spencer, Case No. 13-1412 (Fed. Cir., May 13, 2014) (Wallach, J.)

Geller and Spencer applied to register the mark “STOP THE ISLAMISATION OF AMERICA” for “providing information regarding understanding and preventing terrorism.”  The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office examining attorney refused registration of the application under § 2(a) of the Trademark Act, which prevents registration of a mark that “may disparage . . . persons, living or dead, institutions, [or] beliefs . . . or bring them into contempt, or disrepute,” reasoning that the mark is disparaging to Muslims and the Islamic religion.  The applicants appealed the refusal to the TTAB.  The TTAB, after considering the likely definition of the mark, and whether the mark would disparage a “substantial composite of the referenced group,” determined that “Islamisation” has both a religious meaning (“the conversion or conformance to Islam”) and a political meaning (“a sectarianization of a political society through efforts to make [it] subject to Islamic law”).  The TTAB found the proposed mark to be disparaging to American Muslims under either meaning.  The TTAB noted that using the mark in connection with the applied-for services directly associates Islam and its followers with terrorism.  Finding that “the majority of Muslims are not terrorists and are offended by being associated as such,” the TTAB upheld the refusal to register.  Applicants appealed.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the TTAB, rejecting appellants’ argument that the TTAB relied on improper evidence in determining the meaning of “Islamisation” and ignored “overwhelming evidence in the record” indicating that the term is solely used in a political context.  Rather, the Federal Circuit found appropriate the TTAB’s reliance on dictionary definitions, essays and comments posted to appellants’ blog (which both the TTAB and Federal Circuit acknowledged had lower probative value due to the anonymity of the authors) in determining that the term “Islamisation” had both religious and political significance.  Appellants conceded that the proposed mark is disparaging in reference to the religious definition of “Islamisation.”  As to the political significance, the Federal Circuit explained that “substantial evidence” supports the TTAB’s finding that the mark is also disparaging with regard to the political meaning.  The Federal Circuit rejected appellants’ argument that political Islamisation does not include nonviolent activity, finding nothing in the record to suggest that political Islamisation requires violence or terrorism.  Thus, concluding that mark associates even “peaceful political Islamisation” with terrorism, the Federal Circuit concluded the mark is disparaging to American Muslims and affirmed the TTAB’s refusal to register.



DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© McDermott Will & Emery | Attorney Advertising

Written by:


McDermott Will & Emery on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:

Sign up to create your digest using LinkedIn*

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.

Already signed up? Log in here

*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.