Federal refusal to register "Dykes on Bikes" trademark

Volokh, Eugene VOLOKH at law.ucla.edu
Thu Jul 14 13:01:30 PDT 2005

    Any constitutional problem with this?  (Echoes of the Washington
Redskins debate, I recognize.)


Vic Germany thought registering a federal trademark for San Francisco's
iconic Dykes on Bikes organization would be no problem. After all, the
nonprofit lesbian motorcycle group has become internationally known for
riding in the lead position at San Francisco's pride parade every year
for nearly three decades. 
Instead, the group has spent a humiliating two years slogging through
the swampland of trademark law, with no end in sight, said Germany,
president of the San Francisco Women's Motorcycle Contingent, a.k.a.
Dykes on Bikes. 
Twice, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has rejected the Dykes'
application, on the grounds that "dyke" is vulgar, offensive and
"scandalous." Patent office attorneys even point to Webster's
dictionary, which says dyke is "often used disparagingly." 
"The examining attorney found it to be offensive to a significant
portion of the lesbian community," said Jessie Roberts, a trademark
administrator with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "And we're also
looking out for the sensitivities of the general public more than that
of a specific applicant."  . . .
The push to codify "Dykes on Bikes" started two years ago when members
of the San Francisco organization heard that a Wisconsin woman wanted to
start a for-profit venture that would include a clothing line --
leathers and such - - using "Dykes on Bikes" as its label.  . . .
In November, the patent office registered a trademark on behalf of the
Bravo Network for the hit television show "Queer Eye for the Straight
"So what's the difference between 'queer' and 'dyke'?" said Brooke
Oliver, the Mission District attorney who is handling the Dykes' case.
. . .

More information about the Conlawprof mailing list