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JUN
18
6 MOS

Redskins Trademark Canceled, Called Derogatory

The Patent and Trademark Office ruled that the NFL team's name brings Native Americans into contempt and disrepute.

Washington Redskins Helmets - H 2014
AP Photo/Nick Wass

On Wednesday, the United States Patent and Trademark Office weighed in on a controversy that has been simmering for decades, but has heated up in the past couple of years. In a 177-page opinion, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled that the "Redskins" mark enjoyed by the NFL team in the nation's capital must be canceled because it disparages Native Americans.

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In coming to the decision, the USPTO reviewed the testimony of Native Americans, newspaper articles, reports, official records and letters. The agency noted that the Washington Redskins alleged honorable intent and manner of use of the term wouldn't contribute to its determination of whether "Redskins" is disparaging. Here's the full ruling.

This isn't the first time the USPTO has addressed the "Redskins" issue. In the 1990s, a challenge was made to the football team's name, and in 1999, Native American groups were able to convince the board of its disparaging nature. But the decision was later overturned by a federal court on the grounds that opposers had waited too long to object to the 1967 trademark. An appeals court then reversed that decision — holding that the wrong standard for laches was applied — but didn't address the merits of whether "Redskins" was disparaging or not.

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder has been adamant that there won't be any name change despite growing pressure from advocacy groups, media pundits and even President Barack Obama. Snyder will likely pursue an appeal of the USPTO's decision and seek a stay of enforcement.

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The ramification of the decision, if it holds up, means that the team will have a tougher time stopping others from using the name and logo. However, the team could fall back on other common law rights, and in its opinion, the USPTO acknowledges that it lacks statutory authority on the subject of use of trademarks. Barring a team name change, the team's controversial use of "Redskins" will be a subject of legal dispute for many years to come.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner