Big Win for Indian Country: Patent Office Cancels Redskins Trademark
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has canceled six Federal trademark registrations for the Washington Redskins. The PTO's Trademark Trial and Appeals Board issued its decision Wednesday morning.
“We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered,” the Board said, in an opinion that is available online at uspto.gov.
The document then provides some more specific, and key, details. First, the limitation of the ruling: "This decision concerns only the statutory right to registration under Section 2(a). We lack statutory authority to issue rulings concerning the right to use trademarks."
In other words, the Redskins can (and likely will) continue to operate as the Redskins, and can use the iconography in question -- without trademark protection.
The court document specifies six formerly-registered images, but only includes three of them; ICTMN has located another two:
1. Registration No. 0836122 for the mark THE REDSKINS (stylized)
2. Registration No. 0978824 for the mark WASHINGTON REDSKINS, in typed drawing form (found here)
3. Registration No. 0986668 for the mark WASHINGTON REDSKINS and design:
4. Registration No. 0987127 for the mark THE REDSKINS and design:
5. Registration No. 1085092 for the mark REDSKINS, in typed drawing form (found here):
6. Registration No. 1606810 for the mark REDSKINETTES, in typed drawing form, for “entertainment services, namely, cheerleaders who perform dance routines at professional football games and exhibitions and other personal appearances. (Registration document here; no image included.)
While the images provided for points images 1, 3, and 4 are slightly dated, points 2 and 5 indisputably display the team's present-day logo and typeface. (Point 6 isn't strictly relevant as the team no longer calls its cheerleaders "Redskinettes.")
Jesse Witten, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, said in a press release (published in part by ThinkProgress) that the board "agreed with our clients that the team’s name and trademarks disparage Native Americans. The Board ruled that the Trademark Office should never have registered these trademarks in the first place. ... We presented a wide variety of evidence – including dictionary definitions and other reference works, newspaper clippings, movie clips, scholarly articles, expert linguist testimony, and evidence of the historic opposition by Native American groups – to demonstrate that the word ‘redskin’ is an ethnic slur."
In her own statement, plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse hailed the ruing as "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," she continued. "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?"
In 1999, the board delivered a similar verdict, but an appeal by the Washington team was granted by a Federal court and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to overturn that decision, on grounds that the plaintiffs had waited too long to file their suit. According to ThinkProgress, the plaintiffs say that frustrating scenario will not play out again.
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