U.S. Patent Office cancels ‘disparaging’ Redskins trademarks

NEW YORK — The U.S. Patent Office has canceled six trademarks belonging to the Washington Redskins football team, saying they are offensive to Native Americans.

In a 2-1 decision released Wednesday, the office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled that “these registrations must be canceled because they [are] disparaging to Native Americans.”

The Patent Office said it will continue to treat the trademark registrations as though they are valid while the team appeals the decision. The team has said it will appeal, a process could take years.

In the meantime, the Redskins can continue to use the logos.

But if the decision is upheld,it will be hard for the team to claim ownership of its brand. If it wants to go to court against a counterfeiter making T-shirts with the team’s logo, for instance, it will be harder to show that the organization owns the brand. The team will have to illustrate that they have always used the logos, rather than relying official trademark registrations.

The decision came in response to a suit brought by five Native Americans.

“We are extraordinarily gratified to have prevailed in this case,” Alfred W. Putnam, Jr., Chairman of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, which represented the five men and women, said in a statement.

The team has faced mounting pressure in recent years to ditch its name altogether, which is considered a slur against Native Americans. In May, 49 senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, signed a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saying that the “team is on the wrong side of history” and he should endorse a name change. A week later, a coalition of 77 tribal, civil rights and religious groups, including the National Congress of American Indians and the NAACP, signed a letter urging players to join a campaign to change the team’s mascot.

The Patent Office also canceled the registrations in 1999, but a federal judge overturned that decision in 2003, saying there was no proof that the name was disparaging at the time of registration. Some of the trademarks date back to the 1960s.

In a statement put out by the team, its trademark attorney, said he believed this decision, like the previous one, would be overturned.

“We’ve seen this story before,” the attorney, Bob Raskopf, said. “And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo.”

He said the team would appeal.

The Patent Office has occasionally denied trademark registrations deemed to be disparaging in the past, and even canceled existing ones. But today’s ruling against the Washington, D.C. team was unique given how old and visible the Redskins brand is, according to Tim Bukher, an intellectual property lawyer at Thompson Bukher LLP in New York City.

“It’s a 50-year-old asset of a major NFL team,” Bukher said. “I imagine it’s a pretty big hit resource-wise.”

The structure of the NFL, which distributes profits from licensing among the teams, could help mitigate any loss to the Redskins, Bukher said.

48 comments

  • Peter Blaise

    .
    YEAH! — Strike one (yes, I know, a baseball analogy), now to sue in civil court.

    Sadly, many have never seen a red skin person … because they were all killed off in America, even Native North Americans aren’t sure what a red skinned person looks like, but if we go to South America, we may have a change to connect with people who the football team name mocks.
    .

    • sw

      You are so full of it Peter. Back then we were called white men and they were called red skinned. That was a identifying statement not a racism remark. You people need to shut the hell up and go away. Stop making racism exist where there is none.

    • Ken Mitchell

      Peter is just another thin skinned liberal looking for something that offends him, thus the full body tantrum.

  • athynz

    Interesting. So now that Reid and his fellow libpro politicians have made a stink over this to cover the odor of their failures the “offended ones” will come out of the woodwork. At least this lawsuit wasn’t filed by some offended apologetic entitled white people trying to cover their rear ends but by Native Americans who quite frankly are the only ones who have the right to be offended by the name. So will these same individuals also file suits to have high schools who have a predominate Native American population that voted on the mascot stop using the name Redskins? I trust there will be a suit to stop use of Fighting Irish as a team name as it perpetrates a stereotype of Irishmen drinking and fighting all the time.

  • B Addy

    Keep the name , change the logo to a potato and tell everyone to F__K off.
    This political correctness BS has to be stopped.

    • Reasonable Man

      LOL……hilarious!!! That is the best idea I have heard on this topic.
      But people who bring up things like Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, etc. are totally missing the point. Those are not considered offensive like Redskins.
      We are a free democracy and there are lawyers, so therefore people have the right and capacity to bring any lawsuit (no matter how foolish) to court. That is a byproduct of our political and legal systems. Don’t let the media stir you up a la Rush Limbaugh style. It makes you look like such tools/pawns.

      • athynz

        Okay how about the Cleveland Browns? The high schools that use the Redskins name? Oklahoma which translates into “red man”? Red Man chew? Or – as I mentioned in a post above – the Fighting Irish? This would be less of an issue if 1) It was a Native American that brought all of this up rather than some elitist white libpro congressman who’s concern is not about the Native Americans but using the issue as a diversion, 2) If the majority of Native Americans found the term offensive – guess what? 90% of Native Americans surveyed in a 2004 survey did not find the term offensive at all, and 3) If this covered more than just this team but any team using the name and any team using an image of a Native American warrior.

  • grannj

    Ridiculous. Our society is so sick. How is that disparaging. How can a picture of a Native American be disparaging. That thought in itself should be insulting to the Native American. Does this mean we now have to do away with the Cowboys. What next Popeye’s chicken, Colonel Sanders, Bojanles chicken, Bush beans, Cover Girl makeup, Glamour
    Mag (because we’re not all beautiful and glamorous) Ebony mag (because we’re not all ebony in color). Insanity at its worse.

  • Gail

    This is so ignorant. We no longer live in “land of the free” but instead live in “land of the offended”. We live in a free society; therefore we have the freedom to NOT support something we don’t like!!! Just because you are offended doesn’t mean the rest of the world is!! People really need to get over themselves!!

  • bobby james

    they tried this in ’99 and it was overturned.

    It would be nice if the federal government actually worried about issues of the native americans like poverty, alcoholism, and substance abuse…but lets change a franchise name so everyone can high five one another but look the other way on real struggles facing that community.

    Thats this generation, will work on the easy stuff, but cant do the heavy lifting when it comes down to real problems

  • todd

    if their so offended they could give up all the money and tax breaks given to them by the gov until it changes.Also this ruling means nothing as far as the team still using the image,so just political BS

  • Derrick George

    Being a native person I do not understand why this is a big deal. Redskin was used by my own people to refer to themselves. The Algonquin Tribes would paint there faces red during certain times of the year. They were known as the red people. Hell Oklahoma is from Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning “red people”. There are Indian high school teams that are called Redskins. This is ridiculous.

  • Anthony

    People need to put on their BIG kids panties ! Every one has such thin skin . What’s next protest against Cracker Barrel . It could be offensive . Grow up America !

  • Daniel Beasley

    This is Copyright Law at it’s worst. The lawsuits will pile in within a few years over people speaking any word in public.

    • Peter Blaise

      .
      Daniel Beasley wrote :… This is Copyright Law at it’s worst …”

      Oh yes … that’s because it’s Trademark registration law. =8^o

      All this does is say the Federal Government is prohibited from registering the trademark because (even according to dictionary definitions over the years), the moniker is defined as “offensive”.

      Don’t forget: the team can continue to call themselves anything they want to.
      .

  • Peter Blaise

    .
    Read all 177 pages of the decision on the PTO web site before commenting, folks — otherwise, your comments are merely opinions (an opinion is a belief not based in fact).

    Apparently no one, including CBS 6, knows that it’s the “USPTO” United States Patent and TRADEMARK Office, not merely the Patent Office.

    And not the Library of Congress that handles Copyrights, as at least one commenter believes.

    The US Trademark Office is statutorily bound not to REGISTER offensive marks in trade.

    The team can do anything they can get away with, subject to civil and criminal suits, and subject to the whims of marketing publicity pressures of the real world.

    And this case “merely” advances the prior challenge to a Federal registration of the team’s mark in trade.

    A few years ago, there was not substantial evidence or testimony that the name was offensive according to the criteria of the relevant statutes.

    Over the ensuing years, there has been more support, evidence, and testimony that “Redskins” is offensive.

    Hence the change, and the Federal decision to unregister the team’s mark in trade today.

    And if there’s substantial evidence that a name like “The White Skins” is offensive according to the criteria of statutes, then an application to register that mark in trade would also not be accepted by the US Trademark Office Federal Registrations Database.

    Get over it.

    Learn the history.

    Honor the massacred with something other than a thoughtless team name.

    We can all get along, and that means you.
    .

    • athynz

      A “thoughtless name” that 90% of Native Americans say does not bother them at all. A “thoughtless name” that was used to honor the first head coach of the team who was a Native American. A “thoughtless name” that Native Americans came up with to differentiate themselves. Yeah, do some research of your own.

      • Troll

        It is a shame that idiots like athynz are allowed to play on the internet. His extreme lack of intelligence is very offensive to most thoughtful and educated people.

      • Peter Blaise

        .
        You should have testified, ATHYNZ — apparently all the money in the team owner’s coffers couldn’t persuade the judges to be swayed by your take on the matter, and they probably could have used your here-to-fore apparently undiscovered research..

        I wonder who did testify, and what they said.

        Oh, wait a minute, it’s all on line at the US Trademark Office web site, all 177 pages, the decision in a case that took, what, a year and a half to decide this time?

        Maybe there’s more to it than some here have considered yet.

        Maybe.
        .

      • manalishi

        David/Troll, you’ve been spending a bit mot=re time here lately,,,Is you “fluffer” career getting of to a slow start?

    • athynz

      David must be lonely – he’s been stalking me left and right. I’m about to have him shine my boots and go grab some coffee so he can do something useful for a change.

  • Jay

    Don’t stop there. I am of Irish heritage. Does this mean that Notre Dame will stop hurting my feelings. They should stop the profiling. We are not the FIGHTING IRISH! We don’t all like to fight. If it hurts anyones feelings, then do the right thing…repeal the name. Oh, and stop buying redskin potatoes…its hateful.

    • Peter Blaise

      .
      Jay, if you believe someone’s mark in trade is disparaging to you, and you have a stake in the matter, then of course you, too, can appeal the US Trademark Office’s decision to register that mark.

      Have at it.

      It’s a very open system by law.
      .

  • Jay

    The left has total media control. Political Correctness has us all living under rocks. Get over it. Quit the crying. Life will never be fair or “equal”, If you know of a place where life is always fair, let me know ,so we can go there together.
    Mama never said life is easy. Just move on, and hope you have it better than someone in …lets say…Iraq?

  • Biff Blendon

    I’m a patriot, but I don’t live in New England. I find the “New England Patriots” offensive and I want to sue them. Patriots don’t only reside in New England, you know. Also, what about the poor Falcons, who can’t represent themselves. We have to stand up for those maligned Falcons, and sue! Same thing with the exploited Devil Rays. I mean, c’mon folks, have you ever seen a Devil Ray play baseball?! The Giants are an affront to overweight people everywhere, I DEMAND they select another name! Those of us who aren’t able to exercise self-control and suffer from obesity as a result shouldn’t be made to suffer, after all.

    When will the hate and hurt stop, people? When?!

  • Dave

    Ok Washington dosent want to be the Red Skins. Then obviously they are not welcome in Washington so would they feel the same if the team took on a new name and mascot in a new city? Bet the businesses would screem then with all that lost revenue.

  • Observer

    There is nothing wrong with changing the name if it truly offends the vast majority of native americans, but if this is a very small minority within the native american community that wants a name change and if starting a political firestorm is whats behind this then that would be a problem.

    • Peter Blaise

      .
      Hi “Observer”,

      It has nothing to do with percentages, hence the constitutional democracy aspect of the US, a rather neat way of including all citizens equally, or trying to.

      It has only to do with law.

      The US Trademark Office is not supposed to register marks that are disparaging to anyone.

      Yet, anyone can use s disparaging mark.

      It’s a free country, after all.

      Everyone has constitutionally protected free speech rights.

      Go ahead, call the source identifier of your goods and services a disparaging name.

      No one can stop you.

      Have at it.

      It’s just that the US Trademark Office is statutorily prohibited from register it.

      Does no one do their homework on what this case is, and what trademarks are all about?

      … and some came to be strict constitutionalists, oh my!
      .

  • Sonjia

    Saw this on a FB post and thought it was so on point.
    “The Washington Redskins should change their name because of all the negativity, shame, humiliation, dissent, polarity, adversity, defiance, hatred, animosity, contempt, discrimination, division, violence, counter-productivity, ill-spirit, un-Godliness, and hostility associated with their name. From now on they should be known simply as the Redskins.”

  • Jennifer

    It only took 5 people getting offended for the US Patent Office to revoke a trademark?! In that case, I’m offended by Microsoft Windows b/c it makes me feel bad for not being a billionaire! I’m offended! Revoke their trademark so I can sell some bootleg Microsoft systems! Who’s with me?

    • Peter Blaise

      .
      Actually, Jennifer, the mark “Windows” should never have been registered, but Microsoft had too much money already sunk in it, and so they plied political pressure to get it registered even though the term “windows” was a pre-existing generic term for what they were doing, and it had been done by others before, just with less sales success.

      No one made a public stink over it, so who cares, eh? No one died, right? It’s just trademarks, after all.

      This is the second successful attempt to kill the “Redskins” mark registration, it got reversed last time, let’s see that happens next on this try out.
      .

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