D.L. Chandler

Washington Redskins Trademarks Cancelled


The long battle over the name change of the NFL’s Washington Redskins football team has sprung forth an interesting development. Earlier today, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled that trademarks using the team’s name have been canceled because of its offensive nature.

A lawsuit brought by a group of Native Americans, Blackhorse v. Pro-Football Inc., was filed back in 2006. There have been setbacks by Native American groups attempting to sue over Washington Redskin trademarks dating back to 1992, a case which was thrown out on a technicality. As reported by Deadspin, around a dozen trademarks using “Redskins” have been denied by the board and today’s decision puts existing applications on indefinite hold.

Administrative Trademark Judge Karen Kuhlke wrote the most pointed statement regarding the decision, and why the board decided to go in the direction they did.

From the decision:

The recognition that this racial designation based on skin color is disparaging to Native Americans is also demonstrated by the near complete drop-off in usage of “redskins” as a reference to Native Americans beginning in the 1960’s.

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.

Simply put, the board found that a significant number of Native Americans found the term “Redskins” offensive although it was revealed that it was not an overwhelming majority. This victory, while not the coup for Native Americans and U.S. senators who want the Redskins name struck down, will have some impact.

The Pro-Football Inc. company will appeal and still have rights to exclusively use the trademark, but the bad press around the name could spell doom for the Washington Redskins’ corporate investors who won’t want to be associated with this fiasco.

Click this link to read more about the entire decision from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trail and Appeal Board.

Photo: Keith Allison/Creative Commons

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