Pork rinds can’t be sold under trademark “Redskins Hog Rinds,” agency rules

The same federal agency that will determine whether Washington’s professional football team gets to keep its trademark registration recently struck down a request for a company to sell pork rinds with the name “Redskins.”

An application to register the trademark “Redskins Hog Rinds” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was refused by an examining attorney on the basis that it contained “a derogatory slang term,” according to a letter from the agency.

“Registration is refused because the applied-for mark REDSKINS HOG RINDS consists of or includes matter which may disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols,” reads the letter, dated Dec. 29.

It goes on to list five definitions for the word “Redskin,” four of which describe it as an “offensive” term for Native Americans. The fifth definition uses the word “taboo.” The letter also cites several news articles as evidence that Indians find the word offensive, along with the fact that the “the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) now uses the designations ‘R*dskins’ and ‘R Word’ when referring to ‘REDSKINS’ sports teams mascots.”

A lawsuit brought by a group of Native Americans aimed at revoking the NFL team’s federal trademark registration is pending before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. A similar suit, launched by Suzan Harjo and seven other Native Americans in 1992, was thrown out on a technicality in 2009.

A decision in the current case could come any day.

“We’ve very encouraged by this decision by the trademark office, and we look forward to getting a ruling in our case,” Jesse Witten, attorney for the current plaintiffs, said Monday.

If the board rules against the Washington Redskins, the team wouldn’t be forced to change its name but would lose its registered trademark status, which helps protect it from individuals looking to sell merchandise with the word on it.

In the past, trademark office examiners have rejected four other applications that used the word Redskins, including “Redskins Pigskins” and “Redskins Fanatics,” on grounds that they were disparaging.

A spokesman for the Patent and Trademark Office said that the agency does not comment on pending trademark applications and that each case is decided on its own merits.

The application for the pork rinds was submitted on behalf of a Capitol Heights man by the law firm LegalForce RAPC Worldwide. Mitesh Patel, a lawyer at the firm, said the word “Redskins” falls into an unclear area because several food items, including potatoes and nuts, have registered trademarks that contain the word.

He said he hadn’t talked to the client to see whether he was using the word to describe the product or had some other purpose in mind. The applicant has six months to appeal the refusal.

Theresa Vargas is a reporter for the Post’s local enterprise team.
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