On June 24, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated opinion in Iancu v. Brunetti, holding that the Lanham Act’s prohibition on the registration of “immoral” or “scandalous” trademarks violates the First Amendment.
In 1990, Erik Brunetti, an artist and entrepreneur, founded the streetwear clothing line, FUCT (pronounced as four letters, one after the other: F-U-C-T). Brunetti attempted to register the FUCT trademark in order to protect its value. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) denied his application for registration, concluding that because it was phonetically equivalent to the “past participle” of “a well-known” vulgarity, registering the FUCT trademark would violate Section 1052(a) of the Lanham Act, which prohibits trademark protection for immoral, shocking, offensive, and scandalous marks. After exhausting his remedies in the PTO, Brunetti brought a First Amendment challenge to Section 1052(a) in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. That court invalidated the “immoral or scandalous” clause. In a 6-3 opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed the Federal Circuit’s decision, holding that the prohibition of immoral or scandalous trademarks infringes the First Amendment because it disfavors certain ideas. The Court’s majority opinion, joined by both liberal and conservative justices, made clear that the government cannot discriminate against “ideas that offend.”