Rockridge Venture Law® Provides Pro Bono Representation in support of Free Exercise of Religion
Rockridge Venture Law, with support from the First Liberty Institute, is leading a trademark dispute concerning whether Biblical references and symbols can be trademarked. Rockridge is pitted against a Los Angeles team recently before the Supreme Court on 2019’s landmark and controversial decision concerning registration of obscene trademarks. 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, Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) Proceeding No. 92011980, 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, claiming to be sole authorized users, and failing to identify the symbols’ meaning which could preclude registration as religious symbolism. Rockridge has challenged the validity of the brothers’ trademark through a cancellation proceeding now pending before TTAB.
Rockridge’s 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 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.
Rockridge Venture Law®, or RVL®, is a corporate and intellectual property firm, with offices in Chattanooga, Durham, and the Nashville area. RVL combines award-winning legal services with a triple-bottom-line business model, and in 2018 and 2019 was recognized by the certifying organization B Lab as Tennessee’s only Best for the World B Corp.
 In Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744 (2017), an Asian-American rock band appealed to the Supreme Court after the PTO denied them a registration on the mark “The Slants.” The band said the mark reclaimed an offensive slur, but the PTO denied registration based on 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), which contained a provision permitting the PTO to bar registration of “disparaging” trademarks. In Iancu v. Brunetti, 139 S. Ct. 2294 (2019), the Supreme Court applied the same analysis to overturn the PTO’s denial of registration to the mark FUCT, which was claimed for children’s and infant’s apparel. These are precedential decisions that remove restrictions on disparaging and obscene trademark registrations within the PTO.
 Trademark Manual of Examination Procedure (TMEP) § 1202.17(e)(iv) states that a religious symbol may provide informational or descriptive significance that renders such symbol a non-registrable universal symbol, as opposed to a registrable source indicator.