The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has stepped into the controversy surrounding the name of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins with a bombshell decision this morning cancelling the team’s trademark registrations.
The panel of judges wrote, “We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered, in violation of … the Trademark Act of 1946.”
The ruling does not mean that the team has to stop using its name and logo. The USPTO ruling simply strips it of trademark protection – and even that decision will be challenged in court.
The Redskins franchise, and owner Daniel Snyder, have faced growing public criticism for refusing to change the team’s name, which many people, particularly Native Americans, view as racist. For his part, Snyder has been adamant about retaining the name. “We will never change the name of the team,” he told USA Today last year.
The case, brought in 2006 by five Native Americans, including lead plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse, is not the first attempt to have the trademark cancelled. A similar ruling from the USPTO in 1999 was overturned on appeal. However, in the ruling issued today, the agency’s panel noted that the courts never addressed the merits of the decision, ruling on the basis of the plaintiffs’ standing to seek relief.
Neither the NFL nor the Redskins franchise had issued a response to the ruling as of this article’s posting. However, it is likely that the USPTO decision will be challenged.
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