The Redskins trademarks ruling is in: It’s 2-to-1, the Washington Redskins name is “disparaging of Native Americans” and federal trademarks for the name must be canceled, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled today.
The team doesn’t immediately lose trademark protection and is allowed to retain it during appeal.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder has refused to change the team’s name, citing tradition, but there has been growing chorus coming from everywhere, including President Barack Obama, lawmakers of both parties and civil rights groups, to change the name.
And everyone involved is sorting through the implications of the ruling, including business owners who may have trademarks of their own.
“The federal trademark law bars registration of an otherwise protectable mark if it consists of offensive or disparaging language. Citing this law, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) ruled to cancel six of the Washington Redskin’s trademarks on the grounds the term REDSKINS was disparaging to Native Americans at the time the marks were registered,” Kelley C. Keller, an intellectual property lawyer explains to Daddyhood.
“If the TTAB’s decision is upheld on appeal, the Redskins will lose their federal registrations and the benefits that come with that, such as the exclusive right to license the name for shirts, hats, and the like, which is a huge money maker for the team, but they could still use the name if they wish. Dan Snyder has some time before he has to determine the course forward.”
Experts say it’s important to understand the process, and it can be somewhat complex.
“The lesson in this for business owners is that you need to know what you don’t know about trademarks and their legal protection. There are a handful of reasons why trademarks cannot be legally protected, being offensive or disparaging is just one of them,” says Keller. “What is offensive or disparaging is an inherently subjective question, so these kinds of trademark challenges are always tough. But the TTAB can only consider the evidence before it in making its decisions, so the scope of information they consider in coming to a conclusion is really determined by the parties themselves. The process is designed to be immune from public or political pressure.”
Bob Raskopf, trademark attorney for the Washington Redskins, said he expects the ruling to be overturned on appeal.
“We’ve seen this story before,” Raskopf said in a statement. “And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo.”
The lesson, says Keller, if you have a name or logo to protect: “Investing some time and money up front to work with a trademark attorney who can help you choose a legally protectable mark will save time, money, and stress down the road.”