Redskins Trademarks Cancelled in Landmark Disparagement Case
Today after a ruling by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board that the marks were disparaging to Native Americans, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) canceled six trademark registrations associated with the National Football League’s Washington Redskins. Each of the affected trademark registrations contains the word “Redskin.”
The petitioners were five Native Americans who instituted the cancellation proceeding for the trademark registrations issued between 1967 and 1990. Federal trademark law prohibits trademark protection for marks that are offensive or contain disparaging language under the Trademark Act of 1946. See 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a). The effect of the Board’s ruling is limited to cancellation of the trademarks but does not extend to the right of the Washington Redskins to use the trademarks. The opinion of the Board can be read here: http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/v?pno=92046185&pty=CAN&eno=199
The Board faced a prior challenge to the trademarks in 1992 when seven Native Americans filed a petition to cancel the registrations on the grounds that the marks were disparaging to Native Americans. The Board agreed with the Petitioners and ordered that the USPTO cancel the registrations. However, on appeal, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia reversed the Board’s decision, holding that the finding of disparagement was not supported by substantial evidence and that the affirmative defense of laches or delay in filing the claim precluded the Board’s consideration of the case. After further appellate proceedings the case was eventually decided solely on the grounds of the delay in filing and not on the merits of whether the marks were disparaging to Native Americans.
Even though changing the team’s name is not required under this landmark decision, the result may finally encourage the Washington Redskins to change their name and logo before NFL preseason begins in August. Washington Redskins majority owner Dan Snyder has previously maintained that he would not change the name, however.