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The First Amendment Walks into a Bar: Trademark Registration and Free Speech

44 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2016 Last revised: 1 Apr 2016

Rebecca Tushnet

Harvard Law School

Date Written: March 8, 2016

Abstract

This Essay analyzes the First Amendment arguments against §2(a)’s disparagement bar with reference to the consequences of any invalidation on the rest of the trademark statute. Ultimately, given the differences — or lack thereof — between disparagement and other bars in the statute, I conclude that §2(a) is generally constitutional as a government determination about what speech it is willing to approve, if not endorse. If the Supreme Court disagrees, it will face a difficult job distinguishing other aspects of trademark law. And these difficulties signal a greater problem: the Court has lost touch with the reasons that some content-based distinctions might deserve special scrutiny. Often, perfectly sensible and by no means censorious regulations that depend on identifying the semantic content of speech would fall afoul of a real application of heightened scrutiny, to no good end.

Keywords: trademark, first amendment, registration

Suggested Citation

Tushnet, Rebecca, The First Amendment Walks into a Bar: Trademark Registration and Free Speech (March 8, 2016). Notre Dame Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2745016

Rebecca Tushnet (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

Cambridge, MA
United States

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