Most of the major blows to the supporters of the Washington Redskins' name have been just words. Now, there's a significant action against the nickname.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the Redskins' trademarks. The petitioners, consisting of five Native Americans, sought to cancel the trademarks based on a section of the Trademark Act that "prohibits registration of marks that may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute."
Six trademarks for the team were canceled in a divided ruling by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. The team has said it plans to appeal the decision.
The USPTO said in its ruling that "these registrations must be canceled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered, in violation of Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a)."
The trademarks that were canceled were granted between 1967 and 1990. Since 1992, the USPTO has denied to register trademarks that included Redskins at least 12 times, including seven applications from the Washington football team and one from NFL Properties (for "Boston Redskins"), according to USA Today. Disparagement grounds were cited for those denials.
The Redskins issued a statement from Bob Raskopf, trademark attorney for the team, regarding the split decision. It reads, in part:
"We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s divided ruling will be overturned on appeal. This case is no different than an earlier case, where the Board canceled the Redskins’ trademark registrations, and where a federal district court disagreed and reversed the Board. As today’s dissenting opinion correctly states, 'the same evidence previously found insufficient to support cancellation' here 'remains insufficient' and does not support cancellation.
"This ruling — which of course we will appeal — simply addresses the team’s federal trademark registrations, and the team will continue to own and be able to protect its marks without the registrations. The registrations will remain effective while the case is on appeal.
"When the case first arose more than 20 years ago, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled on appeal in favor of the Washington Redskins and their trademark registrations. ..."
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has defended the name and has shown no signs that he'd voluntarily consider changing it. As Raskopf said in the statement, the team will retain its federal trademark rights during an appeal, which could take a long time. The team can also continue to use the name and the logo even if the USPTO's ruling stands.
The ruling doesn't mean the team would have to change the name. The issue would be that anyone could try to sell Redskins merchandise because it isn't trademarked, though USA Today said the team could fight for its rights to the logo and name, citing "common law and state statutes."
The ruling might not have an immediate impact on anything the Redskins do. But it seems like a large setback to the supporters of the nickname as pressure continues to mount for the team to change it.
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