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Racism, Band Names, and Trademarks
October 24, 2013 1:06 PM   Subscribe

"In fact, the implication is that if we weren’t Asian, there wouldn’t be any problems because people wouldn’t associate our name with an obscure racial slur. And while it’s true that the people in the band can be identified by a band’s name, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the members literally embody the name of the band. No one thinks ’The Rolling Stones’ are literal masses of undulating rock or that ’Led Zeppelin’ is a metallic reincarnation of the Hindenburg blimp.”

The Slants, a "Chinatown dance-rock" band out of Portland, OR (videos: 1 2 3 4 5), has been fighting with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for several years over trying to trademark their band name. They are planning a new appeal in Federal Court.
posted by hopeless romantique (38 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Strangely, it doesn't seem like another largely Asian-American rock group had this kind of trouble with their name, although I admittedly don't know for sure if they ran theirs past the P&T Office.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:16 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


"... the PTO isn't saying the Slants can't call themselves that — they just can't have the name trademarked."

Actually no, the PTO isn't letting them register the trademark. The name functions as a trademark even without a registration, by virtue of the band's use of it.

You can read the Examining Attorney's argument as to why registration should be denied by going here, clicking the Documents tab, and viewing the April 22 entry "Office Action Outgoing".

Typically, arguing that a word has multiple meanings doesn't get very far at the PTO. For example, "cock" has multiple meanings, but if the most relevant meaning is the vulgar one, you'll run into problems. That's what the Examining Attorney is arguing here, that the relevant definition of "slant" - viewed in context - is the offensive one.

I note that Pansy Division were able to register their name in 1997, though they've since abandoned the registration. I suspect there are other, similar examples, but Examining Attorneys are not bound by prior decisions (much to my frequent frustration).
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:27 PM on October 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


They just need to rename the band to something non-disparaging and trademarkable, like "The Redskins."

I'm actually not entirely sure I understand the logic behind refusing to allow trademarks of disparaging names, since that would appear to guarantee that anyone can use it.
posted by XMLicious at 1:28 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


An aside - rolling stone (with the emphasis on the first word) is an old name for a garden roller, so the Rolling Stones are actually named after a lawn implement (you can tell by the way they walk). The rolling stone that gathers no moss is thus a warning that it's no substitute for a rake.

Back on topic: did NWA have legal issues with their name?
posted by Devonian at 1:30 PM on October 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


did NWA have legal issues with their name?

Nope, still registered.
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:32 PM on October 24, 2013


NWA is registered, but AFAIK, the documents do not indicate what NWA stands for.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:37 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Simon Tam, founder and bassist of The Slants

o.0
posted by Rock Steady at 1:37 PM on October 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


He gave up a promising career in medicine! It's madness!
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:39 PM on October 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


Totally not the point, but why would a garden need to be rolled? Silly English.
posted by sweetkid at 1:41 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


An aside - rolling stone (with the emphasis on the first word) is an old name for a garden roller, so the Rolling Stones are actually named after a lawn implement (you can tell by the way they walk). The rolling stone that gathers no moss is thus a warning that it's no substitute for a rake.

Well that just blew my mind a little. I'd always assumed it was some weird saying about stagnation, as in, a regular ol' stone will just sit there and get all bogged down with moss, so keep moving. I even had this little image in my head of some weird self-powered rock that just kind of zoomed all over the place ridiculously because, y'know, old sayings are super weird so why not.
posted by jason_steakums at 1:48 PM on October 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


An aside - rolling stone (with the emphasis on the first word) is an old name for a garden roller, so the Rolling Stones are actually named after a lawn implement (you can tell by the way they walk). The rolling stone that gathers no moss is thus a warning that it's no substitute for a rake.

Kind of a derail, but cite? I've never heard of that explanation and the phrase dates back to ancient times so it would have to be a very old name for a garden roller.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:51 PM on October 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


Also I think if anyone rolled their garden, it would be the French. (French v English garden design traditions)
posted by sweetkid at 1:55 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know if the garden roller thing is true, but, reading Wikipedia, I discover that the conventional interpretation of the phrase reverses the historic interpretation, in which moss was desirable and constant motion undesirable.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:57 PM on October 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Gah—the Hindenburg was not a blimp, any more than a scooter is a "moped."

Also, what about Yellow Magic Orchestra?
posted by sonascope at 2:03 PM on October 24, 2013


It's funny, I'd never heard of them before but my first thought was "slant six engine." Has the PTO ever heard any punk rock band names? I'm not even going to mention the very on-topic band name that immediately came to mind.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:03 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Totally not the point, but why would a garden need to be rolled? Silly English.

Not the whole garden, just the lawn.
posted by jfuller at 2:07 PM on October 24, 2013


I'd always assumed it was some weird saying about stagnation, as in, a regular ol' stone will just sit there and get all bogged down with moss, so keep moving.

Wikipedia seems to think that's what it means.

Bonus: Apparently you can test for schizophrenia by seeing how well a subject understands the abstract meaning of the phrase.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 2:08 PM on October 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


OMG.

I'm just gonna tip my hat to Devonian for what the kids like to call "epic trollage"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 2:13 PM on October 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


but if there were such a thing as a garden roller, again what would it do?
posted by sweetkid at 2:14 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Roll gardens. Like, real good.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:16 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you fold a garden, there will be creases. Hence, rolling.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:17 PM on October 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Just a few posts on from this: '... ponder the fate of Mother Ray Collins'. I see what they did there.

Isn't Devonian a geologic layer, and by extension a sort of stone? And now this epic trolling.... For peat's sake.
posted by perhapsolutely at 2:22 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I note that Pansy Division were able to register their name in 1997, though they've since abandoned the registration.

I feel old. :-(
posted by mykescipark at 2:25 PM on October 24, 2013



If you fold a garden, there will be creases. Hence, rolling


Is a folded garden like a calzone? Or an empanada?
posted by sweetkid at 2:26 PM on October 24, 2013


Roller (agricultural tool) - basically the same function as a steamroller, it appears, and the opposite of a harrow.
posted by XMLicious at 2:38 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Look they chose the wrong name anyway.

Everyone knows the perfect name for an Asian 80s synth pop band is 'Durian Durian'.
posted by fonetik at 2:59 PM on October 24, 2013 [24 favorites]


Gah—the Hindenburg was not a blimp, any more than a scooter is a "moped."

It's a RIGID AIRSHIP!
posted by indubitable at 3:09 PM on October 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Morning Benders had a similar issue. Apparently a "morning bender" is a LGBT slur in, the UK? Or something. So they changed their name to "POP ETC". How that made the short list of new band names is a mystery to me.
posted by Brocktoon at 4:15 PM on October 24, 2013


Not sure if it's relevant to this discussion, but can I just say how much I miss the late great band ee (with a connection to another underappreciated band from the 90's, Seam) and their great song Asian Gangsta Kidz?

If anyone has a copy of their Ramadan CD they can send me...
posted by KokuRyu at 4:56 PM on October 24, 2013


People really do need to lighten the fuck up. I'm not talking about skin lightening, obviously.
posted by Decani at 6:08 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm actually not entirely sure I understand the logic behind refusing to allow trademarks of disparaging names, since that would appear to guarantee that anyone can use it.

No, the law makes sense assuming the goal is to prevent people from calling their band the Slants: if you prevent anyone from using the name as successfully as possible, people will be dissuaded. By the same token, if there's a type of invention that can't be patented for some weird reason, people will be dissuaded from inventing that type of thing; I doubt you'd say, "But this way, everyone can invent it!" Yeah, they can invent it, but without the protection offered by a patent.
posted by John Cohen at 7:28 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sticherbeast: "If you fold a garden, there will be creases. Hence, rolling."

I prefer steaming.
posted by Samizdata at 7:40 PM on October 24, 2013


Just a few posts on from this: '... ponder the fate of Mother Ray Collins'. I see what they did there.

No, I don't think you did.

did NWA have legal issues with their name?

  Nope, still registered.

    NWA is registered, but AFAIK, the documents do not indicate what NWA stands for.


I don't know, but I'm sure I've seen their name painted on the side of an airplane a few times.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:11 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder if The Chinkees had similar trouble or if they just didn't bother with the trademark office.
posted by NoraReed at 11:29 PM on October 24, 2013


Totally not the point, but why would a garden need to be rolled?

It was carrying a lot of cash.

Seriously, you have no idea how awful a lumpy lawn can be. We had a drought earlier this year and while the grass survived (our hostas mainly did not, alas), the soil became positively devious in its quiet plot to trip me and break my ankles. [Experts agree.]
posted by dhartung at 1:23 AM on October 25, 2013


indubitable: "It's a RIGID AIRSHIP!"

and take it from me, dear: regardless of what the brochure says, rigid airships aren't nearly as luxurious as might be expected.
posted by Malory Archer at 8:10 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Have you philistines never been to the cricket?
posted by bystander at 4:50 AM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know if the garden roller thing is true, but, reading Wikipedia, I discover that the conventional interpretation of the phrase reverses the historic interpretation, in which moss was desirable and constant motion undesirable.

I thought that was the conventional interpretation. "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" is a lament, after all, and the proverb was a favourite warning of stodgy old parents to their freewheeling children on all the shit American television I grew up watching. It's not necessarily clear what somebody means when they say/sing it about themselves, though, so perhaps I've been misinterpreting certain instances of it all along.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 5:38 AM on November 20, 2013


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