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Law School Case Brief

Iancu v. Brunetti - 139 S. Ct. 2294 (2019)

Rule:

The "immoral or scandalous" bar to trademark registration under 15 U.S.C.S. § 1052(a) is substantially overbroad. There are a great many immoral and scandalous ideas in the world (even more than there are swearwords), and the Lanham Act covers them all. It therefore violates the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

Facts:

Respondent Erik Brunetti sought federal registration of the trademark FUCT. The Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO") denied his application under a provision of the Lanham Act that prohibited registration of trademarks that consisted of or comprised immoral or scandalous matter. Brunetti file a lawsuit in the in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit against respondent Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director, PTO, claiming that the "immoral or scandalous" provision violated his First Amendment right freedom of speech. The circuit court invalidated the "immoral or scandalous" provision. Iancu was granted a writ of certiorari.

Issue:

Did the Lanham Act's prohibition on registration of "immoral or scandalous" trademarks violate Brunetti's First Amendment rights?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the circuit court's judgment. The Court held that denial of trademark registration under the Lanham Act for a mark that was described as the equivalent of a profane word, on the grounds that the mark consisted of or comprised immoral or scandalous matter, violated the First Amendment because the "immoral or scandalous" bar unconstitutionally discriminated on the basis of viewpoint, and the facial viewpoint bias in the law resulted in viewpoint-discriminatory application. Moreover, the prohibition could not be narrowly interpreted to apply only to lewd, sexually explicit, or profane marks or to marks whose mode of expression, independent of viewpoint, was particularly offensive because the statute covered the universe of immoral or scandalous material.

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