U.S. Patent Office Cancels NFL Redskins Trademark Registration

NFL: Washington Redskins-Training Camp
By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com
June 18, 2014 10:26 am ET

 

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the Washington Redskins trademark registration because it considers the team’s name “disparaging to Native Americans,” reports the Washington Post.

The case, which was on behalf of five Native Americans, appeared before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

“This victory was a long time coming and reflects the hard work of many attorneys at our firm,” lead attorney Jesse Witten, of Drinker Biddle & Reath, told the Post.

Added Alfred Putnam Jr., the chairman of Drinker Biddle & Reath: “We are extraordinarily gratified to have prevailed in this case. The dedication and professionalism of our attorneys and the determination of our clients have resulted in a milestone victory that will serve as an historic precedent.”

The victory won’t have any immediate impacts on the Redskins organization, or owner Daniel Snyder’s decision to keep the team’s name. The Redskins will appeal the ruling, but should the ruling be upheld, it would mean that the Redskins would lose its federally trademarked protections.

As explained by USAToday.com last month, “The effect would be large because federally registered trademarks keep others from selling items with the team’s logos, although even then the team could try to keep unauthorized merchandisers from using the marks through common law and state statues.”

Adds Trademark law experts Christine Haight Farley: “I think it is entirely possible for a court in that circumstance to say, ‘You’ve come to a court of equity with unclean hands and we are going to deny you your remedy.’ We don’t really know what would happen.”

Snyder proclaimed in May 2013, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

But should the team lose the appeal and the trademark protection that comes with it, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell might feel differently.

When asked Wednesday morning about the ruling, Snyder declined to comment.

Back in January, the Patent and Trademark Office rejected a request from a company that wanted to sell pork rinds called “Redskins Hog Rinds” because it considered the term “derogatory slang.”

In a letter dated Dec. 29, the agency wrote: “Registration is refused because the applied-for mark REDSKINS HOG RINDS consists of or includes matter which may disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols.”

Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter applauded the ruling earlier this year.

“The USPTO ruling sends a powerful message to Washington team owner Dan Snyder and the NFL that in the name of basic decency and respect they should immediately stop spending millions of dollars to promote the R-word,” Halbritter said at the time.

“This is a huge potential precedent-setter rooted in the painfully self-evident truth that the Change the Mascot campaign has been reiterating: The R-word is a dictionary defined slur designed to demean and dehumanize an entire group of people. The federal government was right to declare that taxpayers cannot and should not subsidize the promotion of that slur through lucrative patent protections.”

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