In Re Elster, No. 20-2205 (Fed. Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed an examiner’s refusal to register the trademark “TRUMP TOO SMALL” for use on T-shirts. According to Elster’s registration request, the phrase he sought to trademark invokes a memorable exchange between then-candidate Trump and Senator Marco Rubio from a 2016 presidential primary debate, and aims to “convey that some features” of Trump’s “policies are diminutive.” The Board’s decision was based on the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1052(c), and the Board’s finding that the mark included the surname of a living individual without his consent.
The Federal Circuit reversed. Applying section 2(c) to bar registration of Elster’s mark unconstitutionally restricts free speech in violation of the First Amendment. Section 2(c), prohibits registration of a trademark that [c]onsists of or comprises a name, portrait, or signature identifying a particular living individual except by his written consent, or the name, signature, or portrait of a deceased President of the United States during the life of his widow, if any, except by the written consent of the widow.” As applied in this case, section 2(c) involves content-based discrimination that is not justified by either a compelling or substantial government interest.