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The dawning of disparaging terms as trademarks

In the shadow of a recent, landmark Supreme Court ruling, an African-American entrepreneur consultant has applied to trademark an epithet that creates instant controversy.

Just add water and stir the pot.

Business branding consultant Curtis Bordenave wants to use the controversial contemporary variation of the N-word, specifically the one that ends in “a” instead of “er.” He claims that he only has good intentions in enforcing the trademark in spite of the obstacles before him. Bordenave cites the need to educate the world about the term and shield it from negative use commercially.

He is not alone in his pursuit following the June 19 high court ruling that prohibited the registration of disparaging terms violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. That unanimous opinion forces the PTO to now grant trademark registration for the most offensive racial and ethnic slurs, provided applicants meet all registration requirements.

Three others have submitted nine applications to register variations of the epithet since the decision, bringing the total to 32 since 1995. Thirteen are pending, including Bordenave’s.

Bordenave has been down this road before. During the prohibition on disparaging terms, he did try to register the N-word as a trademark in 2008 as part of a joint venture.

While Bordenave claims to have similar goals to the Asian-American rock ban that prevailed in their landmark trademark pursuit, he wants to take things further. His objective is to not only deny negative usage, but also control the application of the word and those who would profit from it by using it in commerce.

“It’s been a goal of mine for African-Americans to profit from the very word that’s held us down.”

In addition to acceptance by the trademark examiner, Bordenave is pursuing public support and vows not to move forward without two million followers on his brand’s Instagram account.

Detractors see it as a publicity stunt, not a sociological exercise. The “N-word” is something to abandon, not a term to merely be deprived of power.

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