Washington Redskins take a loss at the USPTO

United States Patent and Trademark Office cancels the trademark registration of the Washington Redskins as nickname found to be disparaging

“Hail to the Redskins” no longer, apparently. 

The Washington, DC NFL franchise has been dealt a blow that could be far more damaging than giving up a fourth quarter touchdown or suffering through another injury to star quarterback Robert Griffin III. This time, the foe was larger than a giant and more vicious than an eagle.It was the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

The USPTO has canceled the Redskins’ trademark registration on the grounds that it is disparaging to American Indians. Five American Indians filed an appeal before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, claiming that the team name should not be permitted as a registered trademark because it was disparaging.

The nickname was derived from the football franchise’s early days in Boston. Back then, baseball was the most popular sport in America, so football teams often took their nicknames from existing baseball franchises in a certain city (for example, the New York Giants football team was named after the Major League Baseball franchise of the same name. (There were also briefly football teams called the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers). At the time, the baseball teams in Boston were the Red Sox and the Braves, so the nascent football team mixed the two concepts together and came up with “Redskins.”

Sports teams with American Indian-inspired nicknames (like the Cleveland Indians) have come under fire from critics who believe these team names are demeaning to the people and their culture. This is the second time an appeal of this nature has come before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. Previously, the team won an appeal in U.S. District Court and owner Daniel Snyder (and the NFL) is likely to make an appeal in this case as well. 

In the meantime, the ruling does not mean the team has to change its name, though it would have an impact on the sales of merchandise featuring the team logo.

 

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Managing Editor

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Rich Steeves

Richard P. Steeves is Managing Editor of InsideCounsel magazine, where he covers the intellectual property and compliance arenas. Rich earned a B.A. in English Literature...

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