“The Slants”: Offensive or Cultural Satire?


A band comprised of Asian-Americans from Portland, Oregon has been trying to trademark its name, “The Slants,” for years,  but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has denied the registration on the grounds that the word has a racially charged connotation and is offensive.  The founder of the band, 32-year-old bassist Simon Tam, describes the music genre as “Chinatown dance-rock.”  Tam planned to take his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. this week.


In denying Tam’s application, USPTO application officials wrote that while the “applicant, or even the entire band, may be willing to take on the disparaging term as a band name, in what may be considered an attempt … to wrest ‘ownership’ of the term,” that “does not mean that all [Asian-Americans] share the applicant’s view.”

But what if the band came up with the name for the purposes of squarely addressing race issues? Tam said in an interview that the name tackles racial stereotypes.  Tam also defends the name of the band’s latest album, the “Yellow Album,” arguing that the Beatles had the “White Album” and Jay-Z had the “Black Album.”

What do you think?  Offensive or important for creating dialogue?

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.

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