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Trademarks Can't Disparage, Court Tells Anti-'Islamization' Group

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on May 20, 2014 10:04 AM

Trademarking your business' slogan may be easier than you'd think -- unless it could be interpreted as disparaging an entire group of people.

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld the denial of a trademark to blogger Pamela Geller, who sought to trademark the phrase "Stop the Islamization of America" for her group of the same name and her almost-but-not-quite-the-same-name website, "Stop! Islamization of America."

Why can't Geller trademark her slogan?

What Is a Trademark?

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination thereof that distinguishes one person's or company's goods from someone else's. Although you don't necessarily have to register for a trademark to possess a trademark on a word, phrase, symbol or design, it's typically the best way to ensure that you maintain the exclusive rights to use it.

Once you file your application, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will review your application to make sure that it complies with the Trademark Act, the law that governs federal trademarks.

Among the reasons the USPTO can deny your trademark: If your trademark "Consists of... matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt."

Stop! Trying to Trademark Your Disparaging Slogan

In Geller's case, the Federal Circuit agreed with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board's finding that "the admonition in the mark to STOP sets a negative tone and signals that Islamization is undesirable and is something that must be brought to an end in America" and resulted in "a direct association of Islam and its followers with terrorism" in violation of the Trademark Act.

Geller is still free to use the slogan however she pleases, but she may be unable to bar another group from using the slogan as well.

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