By: Abbiegail Francis
In June 2017, A Mississippi business owner, Curtis Bordenave, filed a trademark application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark office (USPTO) for use of a racial slur-- the "N" word. Mr. Bordenave stated that "the goal behind the trademark filing is not to be offensive, but to change people's perception and meaning of the word." Additionally, he asserts that by giving the word a clear new definition, and a stronger more positive meaning-- it becomes more difficult for people to use it destructively. Bordenave's plan is to use the trademark for various products including games, cosmetics, mobile apps, and apparel. He believes that although offensive to some, the word is thought to have marketing potential because of its use in popular culture.
Trademark filings of this nature have only recently been permitted due to a Supreme Court ruling regarding the Slants. The Slants is an Asian American band that filed a trademark application to protect their name but were granted a refusal because the trademark office found it to be offensive. The Supreme Court held that the federal government doesn't have the authority to prevent people from trademarking offensive names.
Similarly, Steven Maynard has filed an application for a version of the swastika to "make sure that trademark rights doesn't fall into the wrong hands."
Personally, I believe this is distinguishable from the case of the Slants because they are a musical group who uses the term to identify their services. In this instance, we have a single individual who wants to capitalize on a generic word. Furthermore, it can be argued that his intended use falls under the guise of being merely descriptive.