After eight years of trying, plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse has scored a win against the Redskins – in the USPTO (scroll down to read the order). The order set a precedent of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.
The TTAB ruled on Wednesday that the name of the National Football League’s Washington D.C. franchise is disparaging to Native Americans. As a consequence, the trademark no longer qualifies for protection under Federal law prohibiting offensive language in commercial trademarks.
The ruling by the Board is limited, though, in that it addresses only the six registrations of the trademark, not the ownership of the trademark itself. What changes is that the team’s owners no longer have exclusive rights to the name or logo of “Redskins.” At the Federal level, it is no longer protected. Potentially, franchise owners could lose licensing fees while others step in to market the team’s monikers.
This is not an outright victory for Blackhorse. Nevertheless, she is elated with the ruling, stating that the Appeal Board has shown agreement with the complaint that the Redskins name is racist and derogatory, and an ethnic slur, as repeatedly witnessed throughout a difficult history. Targeting the trademark was a strategic move, she says, an inroad to apply pressure to accomplish the inevitable: a new name for Washington’s football team.
Spokesmen for the franchise, attorney Bob Raskopf, said they would appeal the ruling, successfully overturning it as they did in a similar ruling back in 1999 when it was thrown out on a technicality. Mr. Raskopf is confident the Washington team will continue to use the name as before, prevailing in their determination to retain the right to use it exclusively.
The litigation is expected to continue as the USPTO made clear in its order “This decision concerns only the statutory right to registration under Section 2(a). We lack statutory authority to issue rulings concerning the right to use trademarks.”
In an earlier matter on the same issues, the TTAB had canceled the registration of Redskins on the same grounds. But on appeal to federal courts, that order in Harjo v Pro Football Inc. was struck down, not on the merits of the decision, but because it was held that the petitioners had been guilty of laches and their petition time-barred. Meanwhile, a separate group of Native Americans had filed the current case.
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