Reaction to news that the Washington Redskins’ federal trademark registration has been canceled by the United States Patent and Trademark Office because it is “disparaging to Native Americans” raised a number of questions for the NFL team.
In 1992, Suzan Harjo and a group of Native Americans successfully petitioned the patent office to cancel six trademark registrations and the Redskins appealed to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. It overturned the ruling, finding a lack of substantial evidence of disparagement and saying the petition was barred by laches, a legal theory that prohibits a part from waiting a long time to file a claim. The Redskins had registered their trademarks decades before the claim.
In November 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
What’s different now? It’s difficult to imagine litigation lasting so long, even given the glacial pace of lawsuits, when societal change comes so quickly. Last week, during the NBA Finals, an ad questioning the nickname appeared in seven markets.
As USA Today wrote last month, “If the team were applying for federal trademark protection for its “Redskins” name today, it would almost certainly be denied: At least 12 times since 1992 the USPTO has refused to register such marks on disparagement grounds, including seven applications from the Washington team (for terms such as “Redskins Fanatics” and “Redskins Rooters”) and one from NFL Properties (for “Boston Redskins”).”
Enjoy the patent infringement free t-shirts flooding the internet in the next few weeks, Dan Snyder.— RumfordJohnny (@RumfordJohnny) June 18, 2014
Of course a PTO disparagement ruling has been overturned in past. Assume Native American groups had better plaintiff this time. @Redskins— Regan Fitzgerald (@penwhen) June 18, 2014
Presume now the Redskins will appeal the USPTO ruling, question is if they can get a stay or can any1 starting now legally use their logo— daniel kaplan (@dkaplanSBJ) June 18, 2014
So, it looks like we can all start selling our homemade Redskins gear on the Internet. Anybody got any requests?— Josh Katzowitz (@joshkatzowitz) June 18, 2014
Redskins will likely pursue a stay of the USPTO’s decision. If they can’t, then anyone can legally start using their logo.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) June 18, 2014
As the dominoes fall on the Redskins and their trademark, what could this ruling mean for other teams?
Don’t agree with name ″Redskins.” But if that logo is also deemed offensive, what does that mean for the Chicago Blackhawks?— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) June 18, 2014
More on the Redskins trademarks: