The Washington Redskins are the professional football team located in Washington D.C. Forbes Magazine ranks the Redskins as the third most valuable franchise in the National Football League (NFL), and as of 2013 they were valued at approximately $1.6 billion.
In addition, the Redskins’ history includes being the first team in the NFL to have an official marching band and to also have the first team fight song, called “Hail to the Redskins.” The logo for the team is represented by a Native American with feathers in his hair, pictured all over the Redskins official website here.
When is a logo offensive enough to prevent registration with the USPTO?
Do you find this logo offensive? If you were or are Native American, would you find this logo a stereotype and mimic of your culture? Do you think the logo is making fun of Native Americans and their culture in general? Maybe it is a surprise to you, or maybe you aren’t surprised at all, but since 1992, the Washington Redskins have been hit with lawsuit after lawsuit by different people who believe that the Redskins should lose their trademark protection for this specific logo.
Under certain limited circumstances, domestic and international law allows existing trademarks to be cancelled, if the trademark is likely to cause confusion or the trademark was registered in bad faith. Another ground for cancellation, which brings us back to the Redskins, is that a trademark can be challenged if it is “disparaging, scandalous, contemptuous or disreputable.” This is the main argument used by the five Native Americans in June of 2014 to petition to have the Redskins trademark cancelled. On June 18th, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with the Native Americans and voted 2-1 to cancel six uses of “Redskins.”
The dispute didn’t end there, and on August 14th, 2014, the Washington Redskins formally appealed the ruling that cancelled their trademark registration. The team’s press release stated that it “filed its complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia” and that it “points out the many errors” in the decision by the U.S patent and Trademark Office. The Washington Redskins’ lawyer Bob Raskopf echoed those sentiments stating, “[w]e believe that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ignored both federal case law and the weight of the evidence, and we look forward to having a federal court review this obviously flawed decision.”
It’s notable that the Washington Redskins’ filing moved the dispute into federal district court. Previously, all discussions and disputes were held within the confines of the patent office. By filing in federal district, the Redskins will not only be able to introduce new evidence but will also have the chance to appeal upon a possible loss.
The main argument that the Washington Redskins are likely to bring is that they are being denied constitutional protections like the right to free speech and being denied and deprived of “valuable and long-held intellectual property rights.” It will be interesting to see how the district court approaches the issue. Since 1992, the patent office has taken a harsh approach towards the Redskins, refusing to grant new registrations for the Redskins trademark since that time.
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This case was brought under U.S. trademark laws, some of which mirror international trademark laws, others of which vary from them. Companies doing business or considering doing business in multiple countries must understand and incorporate the laws of each country in which it is or intends to operate.
If you would like more information regarding trademark registration and cancellation, contact the lawyers at Whitcomb Law, P.C. today.