The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has revoked the trademark of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, after ruling in a case brought by five Native Americans that the name disparages a minority. While the decision could have wide repercussions, it does not require the team to change its name.
In a statement about the decision, the patent office said the petitioners proved that “the term ‘Redskins’ was disparaging of Native Americans, when used in relation to professional football services, at the times the various registrations involved in the cancellation proceeding were issued.”
As a result, the agency said, “the federal registrations for the ‘Redskins’ trademarks involved in this proceeding must be cancelled.”
Explaining the decision’s immediate effects, the agency said its review board “determines only whether a mark can be registered with the federal government (and thus gain the additional legal benefits thereof), not whether it can be used.”
The trademarks in question date back to the 1960s and ’70s. The Washington, D.C., team lost a similar trademark case in the late 1990s, only to have its registration reinstated by a U.S. district court in 2003. It is almost certain the team will appeal the agency’s latest decision.
“Federal trademark law does not permit registration of trademarks that ‘may disparage’ individuals or groups or ‘bring them into contempt or disrepute.’ The ruling pertains to six different trademarks associated with the team, each containing the word ‘Redskin.’ ”
The decision comes from the patent office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which said the trademark registrations will remain “on the federal register of marks” and wouldn’t be officially listed as canceled until “after any judicial review is completed.”