What Discovery's 'Amish Mafia' Has in Common With the Washington Redskins

The Trademark Office is asked to reconsider the rejection of a proposed "Amish Mafia" registration as disparaging.
Discovery Channel
Discovery's "Amish Mafia"

The US Patent & Trademark Office's decision this week to cancel the "Redskins" mark as disparaging to Native Americans got huge attention. Meanwhile, Discovery Communications is asking the Trademark Office to reconsider a trademark examiner's refusal a few months ago to register the title of a popular TV show for pretty much the same reason.

On December 17, the PTO's Kim Moninghoff wrote in a rejection letter:

"Because the Amish doctrine of nonresistance prohibits members of the Amish religious sect from engaging in violence, even for law enforcement purposes, the mark wording AMISH MAFIA, which conveys the idea that members of the Amish religion are involved in a criminal organization that uses violence, is disparaging to members of the Amish religious sect. Further, the applicant’s own statement that the Amish church denies the existence of an Amish mafia suggests that members of the Amish religious sect would view the mark as disparaging."

The trademark examiner also rejected the mark for the secondary reason that the proposed "Amish mafia" mark was merely descriptive.

Just as the "Redskins" decision was being handed down, Discovery filed an appeal, explaining why it believes the trademark examiner was in error. The media company points to all kinds of other "mafia" marks that have passed muster:

"MAFIA GRANNIES (Reg. No. 4250545) does not disparage all grandmothers; PORTUGUESE MAFIA (Reg. No. 4404311) does not disparage all people of Portuguese descent; DUTCH MAFIA (Reg. Nos. 4391891, 4391890, and 4391887) does not disparage all people of Dutch descent; AMERICAN MAFIA (Reg. No. 4208994) does not disparage all Americans; THE MEXICAN MAFIA (Reg. No. 3665101) does not disparage all people of Mexican descent; and THE LESBIAN MAFIA (Reg. No. 3361741) does not disparage all lesbians."

Discovery doesn't specifically address the trademark examiner's implicit point that "Amish mafia" is somewhat of an oxymoron, if the group is supposed to be peace-loving. (Of course, grannies aren't necessary known for taking up arms either.) What Discovery does say is that the examining attorney "is applying a highly subjective double standard to Applicant’s mark by claiming that the term 'mafia' disparages all, or even a substantial composite of the Amish community, when it clearly hasn’t managed to disparage a substantial composite of any other group with which it has been associated."

Besides that, Discovery also points to the immense popularity of its show, which didn't work for Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, but one never knows. According to Discovery, its Amish Mafia program reached a unique audience of 52 million viewers for broadcast year 2013, has been aired 421 times to date, and the official show page has gotten 160,802 “likes" on Facebook.

E-mail: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner