Federal Patent Office Cancels Redskins Trademark

by Andrew Johnson

Opponents of the Washington Redskins name are hoping a United States Patent and Trademark Office panel just settled the debate: The patent office decided Wednesday to cancel six federal trademark registrations held by the team. The agency’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled that the name is “disparaging to Native Americans” and therefore cannot be trademarked, allowing the logo and name could used elsewhere.

In its decision in Blackhorse v. Pro-Football Inc., the suit challenging the team’s trademark, the panel cited statistics showing that as much as 30 percent of American Indians found the name offensive. It also acknowledged that “some in the Native American community” do not take issue with the name in context of the football team, but “it does not negate the opinions of those who find it disparaging.”

The decision has already been cheered by some Democratic lawmakers, including the highest-ranking Democrats in the House and Senate:

Deadspin reports that the team will likely appeal. Owner Dan Snyder will retain the exclusive right to use the name while the appeal process continues.

The team has been under intense fire for the past year or so, drawing condemnation from tribes, sportswriters, lawmakers, some players, and even President Obama. Snyder has vowed “never” to change the name, and the team and the league insist the name has “has always been respectful of and shown reverence” to American Indians.

UPDATE: The team has released a statement saying the panel’s decision “will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo.” The team notes similar decisions have been issued in the past and provides headlines forecasting the end of the team’s name dating back to 1999 and 2003.

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 cancelled 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. 

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