The Washington Redskins can continue battling in court to try to hold onto their trademark protections, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
Judge Gerald B. Lee of the U.S. District Court in Alexandria rejected an attempt by a group of Native Americans to dismiss the team’s lawsuit against them.
The Redskins filed suit in the summer after the activists won a major ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this year. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board said the team could not retain its trademark protections because so many American Indians find the team’s name offensive. The team said it needed to sue the Native Americans to overturn the board’s decision.
The activists argued in court last month that the team should have brought the case against the Patent and Trademark Office’s director — not them. They argued that they have no economic interest in vying for the trademarks as a rival business might and, therefore, aren’t a legitimate party that can be sued in U.S. district court.
But Lee said Tuesday that the five Native Americans — led by Amanda Blackhorse, an Arizona-based social worker from the Navajo Nation — are indeed the people the Redskins should have sued.
“Merely pointing out that [the Native Americans] have not used the registered marks and have no legal or economic interest in the marks does not absolve them of any interest in the case,” he wrote.
Lee said the Native Americans’ “personal stake” in the case makes them a proper target for a lawsuit.
He said that because the activists had proper standing to petition the trademark appeal board, they also are appropriate defendants in a lawsuit that seeks to review the board’s rulings.
The Native Americans “were the sole representatives on behalf of the petition for cancellation, were listed as the adverse parties, and were heavily involved in the proceedings” before the trademark appeals board, Lee said, noting that they had produced 7,000 pages of evidence in the case and sat for multiple depositions. “Based on these facts, [the Native Americans] are clearly adverse parties.”
Lee also said that if he had dismissed the case, the order would have deprived the Redskins of any chance to appeal the board’s decision.
Jesse Witten, an attorney for the Native Americans, declined to comment. A message was left with Bob Raskopf, a lawyer for the Redskins, but he was not immediately available.
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has said the name honors Native Americans and has vowed never to change it. But many Native Americans, including prominent organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians, say the name is offensive.
The judge’s decision comes one day after President Obama presented the Medal of Freedom to Suzan Shown Harjo, a Native American activist who led the first case against the Redskins’ trademark registrations in 1992.