Immoral or Scandalous Marks: An Empirical Analysis

142 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2019 Last revised: 28 Jun 2019

See all articles by Barton Beebe

Barton Beebe

New York University School of Law

Jeanne C. Fromer

New York University School of Law

Date Written: April 4, 2019

Abstract

This article reports the results of a systematic empirical study of how the Patent and Trademark Office has applied trademark law’s prohibition on the registration of immoral or scandalous marks. We conducted this study for an amicus brief we submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in Iancu v. Brunetti, 139 S. Ct. 782 (Jan. 4, 2019) (No. 18-302). In that case, the Supreme Court is considering whether the immoral-or-scandalous-marks provision runs afoul of the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. Our study shows, from multiple vantage points, that the Patent and Trademark Office applies the immoral-or-scandalous prohibition in an arbitrary, inconsistent, and viewpoint-discriminatory matter. On the basis of these empirical findings, we conclude that the bar on the registration of immoral-or-scandalous matter violates the Free Speech Clause because of a lack of fit between the purposes of the provision and the provision as enforced. The Patent and Trademark Office’s inconsistent and arbitrary enforcement also indicates unconstitutional vagueness. This article is based on the brief we submitted.

Keywords: Brunetti, Supreme Court, immoral or scandalous marks, PTO, trademark, registration, empirical, First Amendment, vagueness, scrutiny

JEL Classification: K4, K39, K40, K11, K22, K23

Suggested Citation

Beebe, Barton and Fromer, Jeanne C., Immoral or Scandalous Marks: An Empirical Analysis (April 4, 2019). NYU Journal of Intellectual Property & Entertainment Law, Vol. 8, p. 169, 2019; NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 19-09; NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 19-14. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3368379 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3368379

Barton Beebe

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

Jeanne C. Fromer (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012
United States

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