Rockridge Venture Law® Leads Challenge Against Trademark Alleging RFRA and Free Exercise of Religion

Rockridge Venture Law® has Challenged as Viral, Celebrity-Influenced, and Religious Symbolism a Registered Trademark before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), Arguing for Free Exercise of Religion.

​Rockridge Venture Law® is leading a trademark dispute concerning whether allegedly biblical references and symbols can be trademarked. Rockridge is pitted against a Los Angeles team recently before the Supreme Court on 2019's decision Iancu v. Brunetti, 139 S. Ct. 2294 (2019), concerning registration of 'obscene' trademarks.[1] Rockridge, as pro bono counsel, alleges this new case has important implications for whether biblical verses, shorthands, or phrases can be monopolized by fashion companies. If so, such exclusive retailing could impede upon free exercise of religion, particularly in today's culture where individual consumers express their core beliefs and values to the masses through self-depictions in their various social media accounts and apps.

In its cancellation petition, TTAB Proceeding No. 92071980, Rockridge alleges that in 2013, the musician Nick Jonas posted to Instagram a picture of his new tattoo, specifically the symbols G>^V, representing the mantra God is Greater than the Highs and Lows. This post received over 180,000 likes, was attributable to the Bible verse Romans 8:39, and spawned a viral cascade of tattoos, t-shirts, and jewelry featuring the symbols. Years later, brothers Jeremy and Joseph Guindi filed a trademark application on the symbols and obtained registration. Rockridge has challenged the validity of the brothers' trademark through a cancellation proceeding now pending before TTAB. Among its arguments, Rockridge invokes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which precludes federal law in the form of trademark issuance from hindering religious freedom.

Rockridge's pro bono client is Elevated Faith, a retailer of Christian apparel that gives 10% of proceeds to faith-based charities and takes prayer request submissions on its website. Elevated Faith provides its customers with opportunities to literally wear their faith on their sleeves, sporting clothes with Bible verses, inspirational messages, and Christian symbols. Monopolization of religious symbols through trademark registration prevents companies like Elevated Faith from offering customers opportunities to freely express their religion in the way they dress and interact in today's digital world.

[1] In Brunetti, 139 S. Ct. 2294 (2019), the Supreme Court applied a similar analysis from Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744 (2017), to overturn the USPTO's denial of registration to the mark FUCT, which was claimed for, among other things, children's and infant's apparel. These are precedential decisions that remove restrictions on previously precluded disparaging and obscene trademark registrations within the USPTO.

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Source: Rockridge Venture Law