November 12, 2019 Articles

Supreme Court Allows Registration of “Immoral and Scandalous” Trademarks—What the “Fuct”?

At least for a limited time, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office may be willing to consider registrations that are “obscene, indecent, or profane.”

By Donald J. Cox Jr.

In Iancu v. Brunetti, 139 S. Ct. 2294 (June 24, 2019), the Supreme Court held that the Lanham Act prohibition of the registration of “immoral” or “scandalous” trademarks as applied to the mark “Fuct” infringes the First Amendment’s free speech clause.

In the television sitcom The Good Place, residents in a heaven-like afterlife known as “The Good Place” are prevented from using profanity. A filter translates what would be profane terms into common words like fork, bench, and ash resulting in “son of a bench” or “what the fork?” However, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) applied an even higher standard than The Good Place by barring terms perceived as immoral and scandalous from the trademark registry.

Erik Brunetti sought trademark registration of an acronym for “Friends You Can’t Trust” in connection with his streetwear line of clothing. Mr. Brunetti applied to the USPTO to register the trademark “FUCT,” which he claimed was intended to be pronounced by the individual letters F - U - C - T.

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