PORNO JESUS Mark Refused as Disparaging to Christian-Americans

Author: Morgan E. Smith

In a straightforward application of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, the TTAB upheld a refusal to register the mark PORNO JESUS for adult entertainment videos finding the mark may disparage Christian-Americans. In re Beck, Serial No. 85767380 (TTAB Mar. 19, 2015).  Although the Examining Attorney had also refused to register the mark on the ground that it contains immoral or scandalous matter, the Board did not reach those grounds in its decision.

Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act provides that the Board may refuse registration to an application when the trademark “[c]onsists of or comprises matter which may disparage persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a) (emphasis added). The Board relied on traditional Section 2(a) jurisprudence and applied the two-part inquiry articulated in In re Geller, 751 F.3d 1355 (Fed. Cir. 2014), namely:  (1) what is the likely meaning of the mark; and (2) if the meaning is found to refer to identifiable persons, institutions, beliefs or national symbols, whether that meaning may be disparaging to a substantial composite of that referenced group.

Next, the Board evaluated the three categories of potentially disparaging marks: (1) an innocuous term that is disparaging in connection with the goods and services (such as KHORAN for wine); (2) a disparaging term that may have a non-disparaging meaning in a specific context (SQUAW used in connection with ski-related goods and services refers to Squaw Valley); and (3) a term that is disparaging regardless of the goods and services or context in which it is used (HEEB is disparaging to Jewish-Americans despite applicant’s good intentions and inoffensive goods and services).

The Board easily determined that PORNO JESUS means Jesus of Nazareth partaking in acts related to pornographic or sexually explicit materials and found the mark to be disparaging standing on its own, and regardless of the covered goods or services. For completeness, the Board also analyzed the mark in connection with Applicant’s applied-for adult entertainment goods, which it found only heightened the mark’s disparaging qualities.

In finding that PORNO JESUS could be disparaging to a substantial composite of the referenced group (Christian-Americans), the Board noted that segments of the Christian-American population consider the making, distribution, and viewing of pornography to be harmful and not in conformance with the tenets of Christianity. The apparent existence of a sub-genre of Christian-themed pornography also suggested that the larger body of general pornography does not reflect Christian beliefs. PORNO JESUS, on its face, therefore disparages Christian-Americans by associating Jesus of Nazareth with pornography or sexually explicit materials. The Board summarily dismissed Applicant’s reliance on other allegedly offensive JESUS marks noting that the USPTO’s allowance of such prior registrations does not bind the Board.

 

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