When Freedom of Expression Takes On Trademark Laws: What’s the Impact for Businesses and Intellectual Property Rights Holders?

Published: February 11, 2020

Brand & New



Lisa P. Ramsey Professor of Law, University of San Diego School of Law San Diego, California, USA

Trademark law and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution seem from the outset to have a complex and conflicted relationship. Indeed, while protection of the right to freedom of expression can encourage the creation and dissemination of ideas and information, government protection of trademarks can suppress and punish expression that incorporates another’s registered trademark.  Even further, trademark law sometimes prevents registration of signs that would otherwise be considered speech protected by the First Amendment, with numerous and strict conditions on what may or may not be registered.

In this episode, Lisa P. Ramsey, Professor of Law at the University of San Diego School of Law, who teaches in the areas of trademark law and intellectual property in general, will explain the interactions between free expression and trademark law. She notably talks about two recent groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court cases right on point, namely Matal v. Tam (2017) and Iancu v. Brunetti (2019) about the right for the government to deny trademark registration to certain categories of trademarks—potentially disparaging marks and immoral or scandalous marks, respectively.

Related Resources

To go further:
About Lisa Ramsey 

Also of Interest:

SCOTUSblog: Matel v. Tam

Amicus Brief in the case of Lee v. Tam

INTA Annual Meeting Rewind: Session on THE REDSKINS and THE SLANTS: A Review of the Causes, the Cases, and How the First Amendment Is Likely to Impact Trademark Registrations Going Forward

U.S. Supreme Court opinion: Iancu v. Brunetti

SCOTUSblog: Opinion Analysis—Long-time prohibition on registration of scandalous and immoral trademarks is struck down

American Bar Association: Iancu v. Brunetti—Trademark Registration Uncensored

INTA Bulletin (April 15, 2019): International Amicus Committee Update: INTA Files Amicus Brief in U.S. Supreme Court Case on Immoral or Scandalous Marks

Articles written by Lisa Ramsey about free speech and trademark protection:


The Trademark Reporter (January-February 2019): United States Annual Review—The Seventy-First Year of Administration of the Lanham Act of 1946


About Brand & New

Brand & New podcasts from the International Trademark Association

Host Audrey Dauvet discusses 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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