Even the PTO Doesn’t Have a Problem With Disparaging Lawyers


PTO seal on wall

The Patent and Trademark Office doesn’t take disparagement lightly. Except, maybe, when it comes to lawyers.

In April, the PTO issued a notice of allowance permitting the federal registration of “Lawyers’ Lives Don’t Matter” as a trademark for apparel and mugs. The registration is held by a Kentucky man who is using it to sell T-shirts, mugs and other items on a Café Press site.

The allowance was issued despite the controversial federal ban on disparaging and scandalous remarks:  Section 2(a) of the Lanham Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. §1052. The Supreme Court may consider next term whether the ban violates the constitutional right to free speech.

In the meantime, let it not be said that the PTO hasn’t abided by the letter of that law. Or ban.

The agency famously ruled that the Washington Redskins’ trademark registrations should be canceled because they purportedly disparaged American Indians. It refused to register “Slants” as a name for an Asian-American rock band because that term purportedly disparaged Asian-Americans. And all other applications for scandalous or disparaging trademark registrations are on hold while the high court decides whether to accept the petition for a hearing brought by Slants’ founder Simon Tam.

But the lawyers’ lives registration? Maybe the PTO decided to strike a blow for free speech after all.