HomeTrademarksUS Supreme Court Rejects ‘Trump Too Small’ Trademark

US Supreme Court Rejects ‘Trump Too Small’ Trademark

In a significant decision, the US Supreme Court has denied a California lawyer’s attempt to trademark ‘Trump Too Small’ for T-shirts. This ruling reaffirms the federal law prohibiting the unauthorised use of personal names in trademarks.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court sided with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in rejecting Steve Elster’s trademark application. The USPTO had previously denied the application, citing the federal law that restricts trademarking a person’s name without their consent.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, stated, ‘We conclude that a tradition of restricting the trademarking of names has coexisted with the First Amendment, and the names clause fits within that tradition.’ He added, ‘Though the particulars of the doctrine have shifted over time, the consistent through line is that a person generally had a claim only to his own name.’

This decision overturns a unanimous 2022 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. That court had found that the privacy protections were outweighed by Elster’s First Amendment right to criticise public officials. During the Vidal v. Elster oral argument, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. expressed concerns that ruling in favour of Elster could complicate the creation of similar satirical content about Trump.

Elster’s idea for the ‘Trump Too Small’ T-shirt originated from the 2016 rivalry between Trump and Senator Marco Rubio during the Republican presidential nomination race. In response to Trump’s taunts calling him ‘Little Marco,’ Rubio made a jab at the size of Trump’s hands, implying that men with small hands could not be trusted. Trump famously retorted, ‘Look at those hands, are they small hands? And, he referred to my hands — ‘if they’re small, something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.’

Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar argued before the court that while Elster can use the phrase ‘Trump Too Small’ freely, the government is not obligated to grant trademark protections. ‘Living people have a valuable right to their own names,’ Prelogar noted, emphasising that Elster’s First Amendment rights do not entitle him to enhanced property rights enforcement using another person’s name.

 The US Supreme Court’s decision to reject the ‘Trump Too Small’ trademark application highlights the delicate balance between free speech and privacy rights in the context of trademark law. By siding with the USPTO, the Court reinforced the principle that individuals have a fundamental right to their own names, which cannot be used in trademarks without  their consent. 

Understanding the nuances of trademark law can be challenging, especially when balancing free speech and privacy rights. Vakilsearch offers expert legal guidance to help you navigate these complexities. Whether you are seeking to protect your brand or need assistance with trademark applications, our experienced team is here to provide tailored solutions. Ensure your intellectual property rights are fully protected—contact Vakilsearch today for comprehensive and reliable legal support.

Akash G Varadaraj