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Rockridge Venture Law® Leads Challenge Against Trademark Alleging RFRA and Free Exercise of Religion

Rockridge Venture Law®, with support of First Liberty Institute, has Challenged as Viral, Celebrity-Influenced, and Religious Symbolism a Registered Trademark before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) in Support of Free Exercise of Religion.

RVL®, with support from the First Liberty Institute, is leading a trademark dispute concerning whether allegedly biblical references and symbols can be trademarked. Rockridge is pitted against a Los Angeles team recently before the Supreme Court on 2019’s decision Iancu v. Brunetti, 139 S. Ct. 2294 (2019), concerning registration of obscene trademarks.[1] Rockridge alleges 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, TTAB Proceeding No. 92071980, 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. Among its arguments, Rockridge invokes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Rockridge’s pro bono 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.

[1] In Brunetti, 139 S. Ct. 2294 (2019), the Supreme Court applied a similar analysis from Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744 (2017), to overturn the PTO’s denial of registration to the mark FUCT, which was claimed for, among other things, children’s and infant’s apparel. These are precedential decisions that remove restrictions on disparaging and obscene trademark registrations within the PTO.

About RVL®

Rockridge Venture Law®, or RVL®, was launched in 2017 to become the preeminent intellectual property and technology firm across the Appalachian Innovation Corridor. We now have offices in Chattanooga, Durham, and the Nashville area, and represent clients and interests globally. Our services include all aspects of intellectual property, litigation, M&A, privacy, technology transactions, and ventures.

In 2018 and 2019, we were recognized as B Corp Best for the World for our commitment to triple bottom line business practices. Our pioneering environmental and social impact programs attract top-notch legal talent and assure our clients of missional alignment with their corporate values.

Rockridge uniquely addresses two modern profit drivers: innovation (uptake and development), and corporate social responsibility. We’re Building Today’s Company for Tomorrow’s Economy® by leading clients through the dizzying array of information controls, by helping them to develop and monetize proprietary assets, and by enabling their impactful products, programs, and principles.

Kevin Christopher

Author Kevin Christopher

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