Everyone seems to be talking about the controversial “Satan shoes” released by famous rapper Lil Nas X (“Nas”) in collaboration with MSCHF Product Studio, Inc. (“MSCHF”). The shoes are controversial for many reasons, including their Satanic imagery, allegedly containing a drop of human blood in the sole, their perceived endorsement by Nike, and the music video and hit rap song that Nas released in tandem. Though the song, video, and shoes have sparked a moral and ethical debate worldwide, attorneys are intrigued by the legal debate that arises regarding the various trademark claims that Nike brought against MSCHF in a lawsuit filed on March 29, 2021.
On June 19, 2017, the Supreme Court, in an 8-0 ruling, found that the government can no longer sensor trademarks on the grounds that they may be offensive. In Matal v. Tam, the Supreme Court Justices found the seventy-one year old rule allowing the government to refuse offensive trademarks to be unconstitutional and to violate free speech and first amendment rights. The justices were unable to agree on exactly what legal standard was to apply to the present case or future cases. The revocation of this seventy-one year old rule that has affected the registration of many marks over the years is bound to have an effect on the future of trademark law and trademark litigation. Immediately following the Supreme Court’s decision, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) was inundated with requests to register offensive trademarks.
Starting with the 2017 season, the National Hockey League (NHL) expanded to add the Vegas Golden Knights. If hearing “NHL” and “Golden Knights” confused you, you might not be alone – the Army parachute team is also named the Golden Knights. And that potential for confusion has caused the Army to file notice in the Patent and Trademark Office and request that the PTO refuse to register Vegas’ trademark.