Are Racist Trademarks and Brands Legal?

This year has been one of protests and indignation. The number of black individuals deaths by police forces across the USA shook our consciences. The Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations against police brutality sparked also introspection into all forms of racism, including in the trademark world.

Some companies started to revise their hiring policies. While others are reviewing their minority representation in leadership positions.

This long-overdue introspection made brand owners re-evaluate how these may contribute to prolonged stereotypes or promote racist views.

How brands and trademarks may contribute to systemic racism.

Owners of trademarks such as Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben announced brand shutdowns.


The United States has a long history of racialized products and services. While the owners of these brands defend them saying “we have no intent to insult anybody”, the reality is other. They need to go.

Surprisingly, trademarking a racist, stereotypical or derogatory brand is not illegal.

As we pointed out some blogs ago, the Supreme Court asserted the right of people to use unsavory trademarks and classified them as freedom of speech.

The ruling on Matal v. Tam allowed an Asian musical band to defend their right to use the name “The Slants” 3 years ago.

Although the use of trademarks is defended as freedom of speech, companies should be cautious. The use of racially insensitive brands may not be in their best interest.

Never forget that those names also have an impact on society. And as we continue evolving, consumers and activist groups also have the right to boycott.

Marcos E. Garciaacosta is a Mesa, Arizona business and intellectual property attorney, who works with clients around the world.

Let us know how we can help you to assess, research, file, and renew your valuable trademarks. Transform your brand into a registered trademark! Call for an appointment (480) 324-6378.

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