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Business owner challenges federal law refusing ‘scandalous trademark’ on grounds of immorality

From the fuct.com ecommerce site.

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The attorney for Erik Brunetti, owner of a clothing company called FUCT, will be arguing before the U.S. Supreme on Monday that part of a federal law prohibiting the registration of “scandalous” or “immoral” trademarks should be struck down as an unconstitutional restriction on speech.

The clothing brand has been on the market since 1991. The apparel is categorized as street-wear and doubtless the attention-grabbing brand name is a marketing plus for the customer demographic.

Brunetti says that the name is an acronym (the pronunciation rhymes with ‘duct’) for “Friends U Can’t Trust.” That’s one possible angle attorney John Sommer may use before the high court.

The government is defending the provision that dates back more than 100 years, saying in court papers that the law encourages trademarks that are appropriate for all audiences. The government position is that it isn’t restricting speech but rather declining to promote it.

Brunetti, although denied trademark registration under the “scandalous” provision, can still obviously use the name. But without trademark protection, he doesn’t receive the associated benefits. For Brunetti, that would largely mean an improved capacity to go after knock-off artists who counterfeit his designs.

Brunetti seems to have a valid, strong argument. Two years ago, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a related provision of federal law that had previously instructed officials not to register disparaging trademarks.


This is a court decision that, either way, the public is not going to be affected by. Sommer pointed out that retailers will still decide what products are appropriate for their customers, and as examples, Target and Walmart aren’t going to carry Brunetti’s brand.

Thirty years ago, Brunetti started up his company out of his bedroom in Venice, California. Since then, he’s come out with thousands of original clothing designs. Among the most familiar are parody designs involving the Ford logo and “Planet of the Apes.”

Today he has a downtown Los Angeles office where he employs a staff of four. New clothing is released exclusively on their website on a monthly basis. Some items have sold out in less than a minute, and new collections are always sold out in under three days, according to Brunetti.

Because of the items’ resulting scarcity, some are resold on eBay for a profit, with a T-shirt that cost $40 sometimes fetching more than $100.

Brunetti insists he’s never met anyone who is offended by his brand. “Most people find it clever,” he said.

Victor Rantala


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