Are Racist Trademarks Legal?

This year has been one of protests and indignation for the number of deaths of black individuals by police forces across the USA.  The Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations against police brutality sparked also introspection into all forms of racism, not only the racism that hurts or kills.

Some companies started to revise their hiring policies. Others were called out for their lack of black and brown 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 brands such as Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben announced complete brand changes and shut them down.


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

However trademarking a racist or derogatory trademark is not illegal.

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

The case in question is called Matal v. Tam where an Asian musical band defended their right to use the name “The Slants” 3 years ago.

Although the use of trademarks or brands is defended as freedom of speech, companies should be cautious and conscientious in the use of racially insensitive brands.

Never forget that those names also have an impact in 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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