Disparaging Trademarks at a Time of Social and Racial Justice Movements

Published: September 15, 2020

Brand & New

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Rebecca Tushnet headshot

Rebecca Tushnet Frank Stanton Professor of the First Amendment, Harvard Law School Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic and its gripping effects, 2020 will most likely be remembered for the wave of racial injustice protests all over the world and the subsequent surge in initiatives in favor of Black, indigenous, and people of color, or BIPOC, both to challenge certain situations or status quo and to celebrate cultures and diversity.

Unsurprisingly, intellectual property (IP), as the most visible result of individuals’ and companies’ expression and communication, has being directly impacted. In particular, several companies were publicly challenged for using racial stereotypes. How do these social dynamics impact trademark owners? What does IP law tell us about offensive trademarks?

Rebecca Tushnet, the inaugural Frank Stanton Professor of the First Amendment at Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, is the guest of our new episode of Brand & New. Her research and teaching focuses on copyright, trademark, advertising, and First Amendment law. After clerking at the United States Supreme Court, she practiced IP law at Debevoise and Plimpton before turning to academia. Professor Tushnet’s blog at has been on the American Bar Association 100 list of top legal blogs for several years.

Related Resources

To go further:
About Rebecca Tushnet

Also of interest:

Rebecca Tushnet’s blog 

Harvard Business Review: “When a Brand Stands up for Racial Justice, Do People Buy It?

United States Supreme Court: Matal v. Tam

INTA Bulletin: “International Amicus Committee Update: INTA Files Amicus Brief in U.S. Supreme Court Case on Immoral or Scandalous Marks”

American Bar Association: “Ianchu v. Brunetti: Trademark Registration Uncensored”

The National Law Review: “Trademark Trolls—A Danger to Avoid with a Re-Brand”

WDET: “How Corporate Branding Embedded Racist Stereotypes in American Culture”

Bloomberg: “Black Lives Matter Trademark Applications Surge After Protests”

International Trademark Association’s 2020 Annual Meeting & Leadership Meeting: 12 educational tracks, including sessions entitled “Brand Authenticity: Reacting to Social Movements Quickly and Appropriately” 

About Brand & New

Brand & New podcasts from the International Trademark Association

Our hosts discuss compelling business and legal topics relating to intellectual property, innovation, technology, and change with an international roster of influential experts and industry visionaries.

Brand & New guests contribute to this podcast in their personal capacity, and the opinions expressed (or experiences shared) are their own. They do not purport to reflect the views or opinions of INTA or our members.

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