Best of 2009: Jiggering it out at the PTO
First posted January 29, 2009.
Oh, to be a hip, Jewish intellectual… property owner.
A while back I was following the story of the PTO’s refusal to register the mark NIGGA. As I put it then:
Forget “immoral or scandalous,” which, as we have said before, is an increasingly hopeless position for national government to take on almost anything in this enlightened era. Interestingly, though, this one will probably stick. Political correctness — in this case, quite correct! (most of the time) — is the empty husk of what was once considered the public virtue of “decency.”
No, the real problem is this: Can the Patent and Trademark Office register as a trademark a word that is, culturally (and almost legally) restricted for use to members of one race only — and that is considered practically a “hate crime” for members of other races to utilize? (As opposed to trademarks that no one can pronounce!) Now that seems as if it would be a bad policy decision for any government agency, much less one (i.e., the PTO) that takes eight months just to queue up a trademark application — no offense intended.
Now come the heebs — or, more specifically, racy, but not racist, Heeb magazine — and, in very much the same vein, the TTAB has bounced its appeal of the PTO’s refusal to register a (second) trademark for HEEB, on the grounds that the term heeb disparages persons. Hebrew persons, of course. Heeb-rews. Juice.
A similar argument to that utilized in connection with the NIGGA application was attempted by Heeb, mainly along the lines of, hey, we’re hip, we’re past all that, we’re taking the oppressive language of past repression and wearing it like a badge of pride. (See John Welch’s coverage here.)
I think* that’s a very good argument. And I think the whining of the usual suspects, professionals in the outrage and offendedness fields, cited in the opinion as tisk-tisking this and the previous (successful, as it turns out) application for a HEEB registration, is mostly pathetic.
In fact, unlike NIGGA or “nigger,” the turn-of-the-century-vintage slur heeb has lost virtually all its punch or offense. When you want to insult Jews these days, in fact, you just call them “Zionists Nazis” — that gets you, not opprobrium, but a job at the BBC or Columbia University.
In short, bubbele, the PTO — which has found a way to register numerous terms once considered derogatory when referring to those, fabulous or otherwise, who have adopted non-standard sexual practices — can’t open this Pandora’s box. The PTO acknowledges, implicitly, the objectively demonstrable fact that words that once shocked and offended are now ironic, defiant playthings of the hip, comfortably assimilated (in a multi-culti way) descendants of the former targets of some kinds of opprobrium. But the PTO ignores this fact when it comes to trademarks for kikes, shvartsers and the rest of us.
Well, it doesn’t ignore it, or the inconsistency involved, so much as hide behind a thick lens of pretended obtuseness, relying on “proof” of offensiveness such as outdated dictionaries and statements by such cultural barometers as the Anti-Defamation League.
No, it’s okay to “get it” when it comes to alternative-lifestyle terminology. But the PTO is, as we said, boxed in on the issue of racial slurs. For it is above all terrified of the prospect of what would happen politically if it issued a NIGGA or NIGGER trademark registration for anything, anyone, any time.
And if they can’t have theirs, the Jews can’t have ours, either. Sorry, my heebs.
* I was consulted by Heeb in connection with this appeal, but I was not retained. You know — they wanted a bargain.