Washington's Football Team Just Lost Its Trademark on the Name 'Redskins'

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In a decision released Wednesday, the United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled the trademark on the Washington Redskins' team name citing the rule that trademarks cannot "disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute."

ThinkProgress reports that the U.S. Patent Office "canceled six federal trademark registrations for the name of the Washington Redskins" and ruled that the Redskins name "cannot be trademarked under federal law that prohibits the protection of disparaging language." The team had been essentially grandfathered in, as the rule didn't exist when the original trademarks were claimed.


The ruling does not mean that team must stop using the name, only that they will no longer receive the federal trademark registration afforded other companies (but it can still defend its trademarks using common and state laws). As the USPTO writes in its decision, "We lack statutory authority to issue rulings concerning the right to use trademarks." 

The Patent Office noted that the team's trademarks were "disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered" and cancelled trademarks for both name and designs. 

The team's trademarks had been previously struck down by the Trial and Appeal Board in 1992 on grounds that the trademarks "brings [Native Americans] into contempt, ridicule, and disrepute; and the marks consist of or comprise scandalous matter," but that ruling was reversed by a D.C. district court of appeals which found the challenge was "not supported by substantial evidence."

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The current challenge was brought to the Redskins' trademarks by five individuals: Amanda Blackhorse, member of the Navajo Nation; Phillip Martin Glover, member of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah; Courtney Tsotigh, member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma; Marcus Briggs-Cloud, member of the Muscogee Nation of Florida; and Jillian Pappan, who "testified that she is a Native American" and believes "people should not profit by dehumanizing Native Americans." The plaintiffs argued that the name "Redskins" is a racial slur and is disparaging to Native Americans. 

Earlier in June it was reported that the team had hired political lobbyists as it faces increasing pressure to change its name. 

Update: The team has issued a statement regarding the USPTO's ruling, promising that it "will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo." The team is "confident" it will win appeal and the ruling will be reversed and states "the team will continue to own and be able to protect its marks without the registrations. The registrations will remain effective while the case is on appeal." Read the full statement here

Clarification note: This article originally stated the team would not be able to defend its trademarks. It can, using state and federal common law. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.