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Cancellation of Redskins’ Trademark Ordered
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A federal court judge has ruled that the Redskins’ trademark will be cancelled.

Summary: A federal court judge has ruled that the Redskins’ trademark will be cancelled.

According to the Washington Post, the NFL’s Washington Redskins have lost a major legal battle in the fight over their team name.


On Wednesday, a federal judge in Northern Virginia ordered the cancellation of the team’s federal trademark registrations. For decades, many Native Americans have felt the name disparages their race.

The cancellation will not be effective until the Redskins have completed the appeals process in the federal court system. However, even if the Redskins take the case to the Supreme Court and lose, the team will still be able to use “Redskins” and apply for trademark protections under state law. The team has complained that canceling its trademarks would harm its brand and remove legal protections that stop copycat entrepreneurs from profiting off of their name.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee’s ruling affirmed a previous decision by issued by the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. Last year, the board declared in a 2-to-1 decision that the moniker is offensive to Native Americans, making it ineligible under the Lanham Act for status in the trademark registry. The appeal board was petitioned by five Native American activists, including Amanda Blackhorse. Blackhorse is a Navajo Nation member who often leads protests against the team when it has games.

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A judge issued an anti-Redskins policy for his courtroom last year.

In August, the Redskins tried to overturn the ruling by suing Blackhorse and the other activities in federal court in Virginia. The team argued that the Lanham Act conflicted with First Amendment rights, and that Blackhorse did not demonstrate that enough Native Americans opposed the name when trademarks were registered in 1967, 1974, 1978, 1990.

Federal trademark law does not allow individuals to register trademarks that “may disparage” individuals or groups.

A spokesman for the team said that the current decision is being reviewed, and legal options are being considered. According to USA Today, the team will probably appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Jesse Witten, an attorney for the Native Americans, commented, “This is a huge victory. Getting this ruling from a U.S. District judge is a watershed event. The team has been fighting this case so hard and leaving no stone unturned and scorching every square inch of earth that it’s hard to imagine they will not appeal.”



The Redskins have been fighting the trademark battle for over twenty years. The dispute began in 1992, when a group of Native Americans filed a petition with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to remove trademark registration from the team’s name. Seven years later, the panel ruled in favor of the Native Americans.

Last year, it was reported that the trademark board was split on the decision.

The Redskins appealed, and won due to the fact that the Native Americans did not produce enough evidence that showed the name was insulting. Additionally, it was determined that they waited too long after turning 18 years old to argue the name is offensive.

In 2006, a separate case, filed by Blackhorse and other young Native Americans from Florida, Oklahoma, and Utah was filed with the trademark appeal board.

Last year, the appeal board ruled for Blackhorse, and voted to cancel the registrations. Blackhorse has rallied at games across the country, and members of Congress have proposed legislation that would remove the NFL’s nonprofit status of the name continues to be used.

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In that decision, the appeal board determined that “Redskins” offends a significant number of Native Americans, rendering the name ineligible for trademark registration. The federal Lanham Act disallows protection for names that “may disparage” or bring people into disrepute or contempt. Several factors were considered in that decision, such as the fact that the name is defined as a slur in the dictionary and that the National Congress of American Indians has declared it racist.

When the Redskins sued in response to that decision, it argued that U.S. patent officials infringed upon the team’s free speech rights and had taken a valuable commodity “without just compensation,” because the organization invested millions of dollars in the use, promotion and protection of its trademarks. Lawyers added that the team’s value increased from $741 million in 2000 to $2.4 billion in August 2014. Brand management was valued at $214 million.

Read about the battle over the Redskins name here.

Attorneys for the Native Americans argued the decision and the Lanham Act do not conflict with the First Amendment. In June, the Supreme Court determined that Texas did not violate the First Amendment when it banned license plates proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans that depicted a Confederate flag. Specifically, the court ruled that states do not have to provide specialty license plates whose messages they do not wish to endorse but that would carry the government’s imprimatur. Therefore, attorneys argued that the same principle applies in the current case: the trademark office does not have to provide registrations to entities whose name it finds offensive, but that would still receive approval from the federal government. They also argued that the team would be able to continue to call themselves the Redskins and may still enforce their trademark under state law.

The team argued that many Native Americans actually like the name, and pointed to a 1997 Thanksgiving game halftime show that featured hundreds of Native Americans participating in a performance that was coordinated by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. They further alleged that, between 1967 and 1990, multiple Native American schools and organizations named their mascots “Redskins.”

Dan Snyder, the owner of the Redskins, has promised that he will never change the team’s name. According to CNN, the name has been used for over 80 years.

Source: Washington Post

Photo credit:, Washington Business Journal (Witten)



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