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The Slants try again to get a trademark

by: COURTESY OF SIMON TAM/THE SLANTS - Portland Asian rockers The Slants - Aron Moxley, Simon Young (Tam), Will Moore, Thai Dao and Tyler Chen - are trying again to trademark the band's name. The group has fought with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Board for three years because federal attorneys say the name is racist and derogatory.Portland’s Asian rockers The Slants have jumped back into a federal legal wrestling match to trademark the band’s controversial name.

This time, the band expects to lose its appeal of a November 2011 decision against the trademark in hopes that the issue could be taken to another federal court that might be open to the idea that it’s not racist for an Asian rock group to call itself The Slants.

Simon Tam, the band’s manager/bass player (who goes by the name Simon Young on stage), says the mid-February appeal and a new application are a “fresh start” in a battle that began three years ago when the band tried to trademark “The Slants.” It’s a “defensive route” that omits any reference to race or ethnicity, he says, in hopes it will avoid the same pitfalls that blocked the trademark approval in 2011, when it was summarily rejected because a federal trademark attorney thought it was a derogatory name for an Asian group.

“We’re actually now at a level that we didn’t achieve before,” Tam says. “With the first application, this is kind of the point where we pulled out and said let’s start fresh. Now there’s nothing in the paperwork that even indicates that we’re an Asian band.”

As a touch of irony, a preliminary trademark search in connection with the band’s application turned up five dozen companies, organizations and others that used the “slant” term in their names.

As issue, though, is the fact that five Asian rockers want to use the term as a badge of honor, which puts the group at odds with federal trademark rules, Tam says. “It's like they’ve said that as long as you’re not Asian you can trademark the name.”

On Wednesday, Tam will ask the state Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs to once again support the rock group’s trademark application. Tam says he’s hoping the commission will write another letter of support for the move. If the band’s latest petition to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Trademark Trial and Appeal Board is rejected, the case could go to federal court, where letters of support from groups like the state commission would have some sway, he says.

Calling the band racist because it wants to use “slants” in its name is just a bit ironic, Tam says. “The reason we started the band was for empowerment for Asians. We play a lot of cultural festivals and we do workshops with fans on overcoming discrimination. We’re more like a social justice project that’s also a rock band.”

Living a rock ’n’ roll dream

It’s been three years since The Slants tried to trademark the band’s name. The band’s March 2010 application was initially rejected because of what a trademark official called the derogatory nature of the name. An appeal was rejected in 2011 (finalized in January 2012), leaving the group with no way to protect the name, even as it polished its fourth album.

The Slants — Aron Moxley, Tam/Young, Will Moore, Thai Dao and Tyler Chen, with 63-year-old roadie (a former Verizon exec living his rock ’n’ roll dream) Ken Simon — six years ago tapped into 1980s pop music and whipped up what the group calls energetic “Chinatown Dance Rock.”

The group has four albums and performs across the nation. The trademark was supposed to protect its investment in the music and fans of the group, Tam says.

The legal fight has been educational, to say the least.

“I would love to just win and stop fighting,” Tam says. “I never thought when the band started six years ago that I would be this deep in intellectual property law. It’s become a huge ordeal.”

At the same time, he says, fans and others have rallied to the band’s side during many months of struggle.

“If we win, it means that other people who are in similar situations can do what they believe is right for them,” Tam says.