News stations and sports analysts were super busy this weekend discussing and dissecting the latest story from the US Patent and Trademark Office – the Washington Redskin’s trademark has been revoked. To be perfectly accurate – six trademarks, issued between 1967 and 1990 have been revoked.
What’s the History?
Five Native Americans brought suit against the Washington Redskins stating that their name was disparaging to Native Americans everywhere and have been disparaging since the time that the trademark was first registered in 1967. They state that because the name “Redskin” was considered derogatory in 1967, the Patent and Trademark Office made a mistake issuing it in the first place. Therefore, revoking the trademark rights a wrong that was done years before. Federal law does prohibit registration of trademarks that may be “disparaging” or insulting to groups or individuals.
Interestingly enough, when making the decision, the Patent and Trademark Office used a 1993 resolution, created by the National Congress of American Indians that denounced the term “Redskins”. The Patent and Trademark Office ignored or overlooked a 2004 poll that stated over 90% of Native Americans do not believe the term “Redskins” is derogatory.
This isn’t the first time the trademark has been revoked. In 1999, from a case initiated in 1992, the Redskins also lost their trademark, but eventually the trademark was reinstated based upon a technicality regarding the plaintiff’s standing to sue.
What’s the Implication?
Even if the trademark is not ever re-instated, the Washington Redskins can keep their name and their logo. And in the meantime, in anticipation of the appeals process, the revocation is probably not going to be immediately enforced. The appeals process could take years.
Should the revocation become final, other teams, including Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves may be on notice to change their names should they believe their name could be insulting to Native Americans. It should be noted that the Florida State Seminoles have been endorsed by a Native American tribe, so they are probably safe from litigation.
It has also been reported that a multi-billion dollar lawsuit is in the works against the Cleveland Indians and their logo titled “Chief Wahoo,” claiming that the name and logo are racist. The suit has not yet been filed and the Cleveland Indians have not yet publicly responded.
One important distinction is that although trademark protection for the name Redskins has been revoked, copyright protection still applies to. So – someone else could use the name Washington Redskins, but if they cross the line into copyright infringement, they could be sued for such.
Where do we go from here?
The Washington Redskins have stated they will appeal. They and their fans state that they believe the name is an honorable one and that the intent of creating a team with the name “Redskins” is to give respect to Native Americans everywhere. They state that if only a few people dislike the name, removing it would be a disservice to the hundreds of thousands who do not consider it insulting.
At this time, the NFL has declined to intervene and force a name change, although with enough pressure from Congress, fans and advertisers, they might change their mind.