US Patent Office cancels Washington Redskins’ trademark
In a major development that could very well lead to the end of the Washington Redskins’ franchise name as we know it, the United States Patent and Trademark Office ruled on Wednesday that the Redskins’ federal trademark has been cancelled. The ruling was made on the ground that the team name is “disparaging to Native Americans.”
Travis Waldron of Think Progress first broke the news, noting that a name that is found to be disparaging, offensive or racist in nature cannot be trademarked under federal law. Amanda Blackhorse, who brought the motion against Pro-Football Inc., described the ruling as a “great victory” for Native Americans.
“I am extremely happy that the [Board] ruled in our favor,” Blackhorse said in a statement. “It is a great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans. We filed our petition eight years ago and it has been a tough battle ever since. I hope this ruling brings us a step closer to that inevitable day when the name of the Washington football team will be changed. The team’s name is racist and derogatory. I’ve said it before and I will say it again – if people wouldn’t dare call a Native American a ‘redskin’ because they know it is offensive, how can an NFL football team have this name?”
The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s full decision can be read here. Here are some of the most crucial findings.
The record establishes that, at a minimum, approximately thirty percent of Native Americans found the term REDSKINS used in connection with respondent’s services to be disparaging at all times including 1967, 1972, 1974, 1978 and 1990. Section 2(a) prohibits registration of matter that disparages a substantial composite, which need not be a majority, of the referenced group. Thirty percent is without doubt a substantial composite. To determine otherwise means it is acceptable to subject to disparagement 1 out of every 3 individuals, or as in this case approximately 626,095 out of 1,878,285 in 1990. There is nothing in the Trademark Act, which expressly prohibits registration of disparaging terms, or in its legislative history, to permit that level of disparagement of a group and, therefore, we find this showing of thirty percent to be more than substantial.
Respondent has introduced evidence that some in the Native American community do not find the term “Redskin” disparaging when it is used in connection with professional football. While this may reveal differing opinions within the community, it does not negate the opinions of those who find it disparaging. The ultimate decision is based on whether the evidence shows that a substantial composite of the Native American population found the term “Redskins” to be disparaging when the respective registrations issued. Therefore, once a substantial composite has been found, the mere existence of differing opinions cannot change the conclusion.
A 1992 lawsuit pertaining to the Redskins’ trademark was thrown out due to technicalities. The plaintiffs say those technicalities have finally been fixed in the most recent case.
The Redskins will have a chance to appeal and can continue using the Redskins’ trademark for now, but should they lose the appeal Dan Snyder will have no choice but to change the team’s name. If he doesn’t, he’ll continue operating with no trademark. That means anyone who pleases can basically produce Redskins gear and start selling it.
For those who want to see the Redskins change their name, this is a massive victory.