Trademark and Free Speech – The Curious Case of FUCT

There was an interesting headline yesterday, in this case from the Washington Post, “The f-word case: Supreme Court weighs whether ‘scandalous’ trademarks violate free speech.

In this case, someone has filed a trademark for a clothing line called FUCT. This is allegedly an acronym for “Friends U Can’t Trust,” which honestly sounds like horrible branding, though maybe it works for the target market.

His initial trademark application was denied and he apparently felt rather motivated to fight it. There are other cases regarding disparaging remarks where the trademark as granted. Examples given in the article are an asian american band called the Slants, and standbys such as the Washington Redskins. It actually looks like those two are connected and were the same court case.

“Giving offense is a viewpoint,” wrote Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. “We have said time and again that ‘the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.’ ” – Washington Post – FUCT clothing line owner to have case heard by Supreme Court in First Amendment case

This is in fact a quote from the Slants/Redskins case. A founder of the band even wrote a brief supporting the artists case.

Now, I admittedly can’t really argue the merits of this case, as I’m not a lawyer. I am, however, allowed to have an opinion. First and foremost there’s the inconsistency with which the rules are applied, allowing a trademark for “F U 2” but not “F.U.” Allowing “$#!+” but not “NO $#!+” or “APE $#!+.” Of course, there’s something to be said for being similar to already issued trademarks in these specific examples, as well as the fact that you’re typically trademarking an image, a particular way of rendering these things, and not the literal text itself.

Second to this is the fact that I really don’t care. I do not believe it is the government’s job to nitpick the content of a trademark above and beyond being a unique identifier. If someone wants to shoot themselves in the foot with a controversial trademark that’s their problem. Having said that, some forms of the logo in question here bear a strong resemblance to the Ford logo. All other issues aside, that alone could be considered infringement if used as a logo.

Still, you’re always free to make up your own mind. My point of view obviously falls close the to “small government” side of things and completely glosses over ways this could be used to interfere with peoples’ right to live in relative peace. As always, law is hard and complicated and there aren’t any good answers. It all boils down to which individual rights, and which individual’s rights, are more important.

It is, however, amusing, to read some of the comments where the attorneys are trying really hard to present their case without actually using the word. They certainly deserve credit for trying harder than I ever would have. There’s only so much decorum I can force before I start chuckling.

Y’all take care, and maybe don’t try to trademark anything vaguely resembling an obscenity. It appears to be like a box of chocolates.

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