Inspired by a recent Supreme Court ruling, two entrepreneurs offended by the n-word filed to trademark the epithet to keep it out of the hands of racists.

The court ruled in June that disparaging words can receive trademark protection. It said rejecting disparaging trademarks violates the First Amendment, clearing the way for an Asian American rock group called the Slants to trademark its name – and for the Washington Redskins’ maligned moniker to stay protected as well.

Steve Maynard, an Alexandria, Virginia, attorney, and Curtis Bordenave of Columbus, Mississippi, filed to trademark a variation of the n-word the same day the court decision came down.

Bordenave sought use of the term in “retail store services featuring clothing, books, music and general merchandise,” among other uses, according to one of his trademark applications.

His goal: To prevent racist groups from making money from the word.

“If an individual organization tries to use it to gain finances for their organization … that is not something we think is right, we’re going to protect our mark,” he said.


Bordenave, 47, said he was inspired to “censor” the n-word because of his experiences as a black man living in the South, particularly when a police officer in New Orleans used the slur during a traffic stop nearly two decades ago.

“I was so humiliated, embarrassed,” he said.

Maynard, who also filed to trademark the Nazi swastika, said he wanted to quash hate by getting the rights to it.

“We hope to flood the market with T-shirts and clothing and end up opening up a discussion,” said Maynard.

Gene Quinn, founder of the intellectual property blog IP Watchdog, said trademarking epithets is difficult to achieve. Trademarks must be used in interstate commerce, he said. Bordenave and Maynard, however, say they have ideas for how to do that.

Bordenave’s idea: Build a brand around the n-word by including it discreetlyon products emblazoned with larger, positive messages like “UNITY.” He said consumers would learn that, by buying such products, they were keeping the epithet out of more visible circulation.

Maynard – of Snowflake Enterprises, named for a common insult of “someone with thin skin,” he said – planned to co-opt the swastika by including it on baby products. Such “social satire,” he said, could change its meaning and restrict its usage among hate groups.

“One of the hopes is that people look at the swastika flag in 10 years and think: Baby wipes,” he said.

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