By JONATHAN TOPAZ and LUCY MCCALMONT
In a major blow to the Washington Redskins, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Wednesday canceled six federal trademarks of the “Washington Redskins” team name because it was found to be “disparaging” to Native Americans.
“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,” the PTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board wrote.
Five Native Americans in 2006 brought the petition, Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc., aimed at stripping the half-dozen trademark registrations for the term “Redskins.”
Under the decision, the National Football League will lose several benefits of federal registration of the trademark, including the use of the federal registration symbol.
Federal trademark law prohibits trademark registrations that “may disparage” groups or individuals.
“The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with our clients that the team’s name and trademarks disparage Native Americans,” said Jesse Witten, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney. “The Board ruled that the Trademark Office should never have registered these trademarks in the first place.”
The ruling, though, does not require that the Washington Redskins franchise change its name or stop using its trademark.
“I hope this ruling brings us a step closer to that inevitable day when the name of the Washington football team will be changed,” plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse said. “The team’s name is racist and derogatory.”
In May, 50 senators — 48 Democrats and two Independents — wrote NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell urging him to change the team’s name. The campaign, spearheaded by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and signed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), was not circulated amongst Republicans.
“The N.F.L. can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur,” the letter read.
The league shot the request down later that day.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is co-sponsoring a bill to amend the 1946 Lanham Act, the law that prohibits the registration of trademarks that disparage a group. Her legislation would include “Redskins” as a disparaging term if it is contained in a trademark with connotations to the Native American community and thus strip companies and products—such as the Washington Redskins—of their trademark registration.