The United States Patent and Trademark Office has canceled six federal trademark registrations for the name of the Washington Redskins, ruling that the name is “disparaging to Native Americans” and thus cannot be trademarked under federal law that prohibits the protection of offensive or disparaging language.
The U.S. PTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board issued a ruling in the case, brought against the team by plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse, Wednesday morning.
“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 board wrote in its opinion, “.
“The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with our clients that the team’s name and trademarks disparage Native Americans. The Board ruled that the Trademark Office should never have registered these trademarks in the first place,” Jesse Witten, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, said in a press release. “We presented a wide variety of evidence – including dictionary definitions and other reference works, newspaper clippings, movie clips, scholarly articles, expert linguist testimony, and evidence of the historic opposition by Native American groups – to demonstrate that the word ‘redskin’ is an ethnic slur.”
“I am extremely happy that the [Board] ruled in our favor,” Blackhorse said in a statement. “It is a great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans. We filed our petition eight years ago and it has been a tough battle ever since. I hope this ruling brings us a step closer to that inevitable day when the name of the Washington football team will be changed. The team’s name is racist and derogatory. I’ve said it before and I will say it again – if people wouldn’t dare call a Native American a ‘redskin’ because they know it is offensive, how can an NFL football team have this name?”
The Trial and Appeals Board rescinded the team’s trademark protections in a 1999 ruling that was part of a case filed in 1992. A federal court later overturned the ruling on appeal due to a technicality that the plaintiffs say has been fixed in this most recent case.
The team will almost certainly appeal the case, and it will be able to keep its trademark protection during appeal. Losing the trademark would not force the team to change its name, but it would allow anyone who wanted to use “Redskins” on merchandise or through other means to do so, which could cost the team — and, because of the NFL’s revenue-sharing model, other NFL teams — “every imaginable loss you can think of,” as the team’s lawyers argued in the original case. For that reason, the trademark has long been thought of by opponents of the team’s name as the easiest avenue to changing it.