Wednesday, June 18, 2014

US Patent and Trademark Office Cancels Washington Redskins Trademark Over Derogatory Nature

The US Patent and Trademark Office has issued a landmark ruling in cancelling the Washington Redskins trademark use of the Redskin name. The PTO cancelled the Redskins trademark because its "disparaging to Native Americans."

That'll probably force the NFL and Washington team owner to change the team name, though they'll probably appeal the ruling even though it was the right one (and will likely set precedent for other sports teams around the nation that use similar terms).

Of course, a few are complaining that this is another sign of a bureaucracy run amok. That's a bogus complaint since the US PTO has rules for trademarking, and that includes a prohibition of terms, phrases, and images that are disparaging. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled on the case, brought by a Native American against the team's trademarks, and won. The reasoning is sound and grounded in the Trademark Act since the registrations were in violation of Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a). The decision concerns only the statutory right to registration under Section 2(a) because the Board lacks the statutory authority to issue rulings concerning the right to use trademarks. See, e.g., In re Franklin Press,
Inc., 597 F.2d 270, 201 USPQ 662, 664 (CCPA 1979).

Allowing the trademark to stand would have undermined the very law prohibiting derogatory trademarks (in other words, potentially opening the door to allowing a group like the KKK or a white supremacist group to file trademarks and protect their use - like say against the SPLC that goes after these hate groups).

Those who are trying to protect the use of the name because of the historical nature of the usage within the NFL would be blind to the derogatory nature of the team name, and history of repression and poor treatment of Native Americans across the country and throughout US history. This was the right decision to make, and hopefully the NFL and Dan Snyder act appropriately and change the team name immediately. It shouldn't have taken a trademark ruling to do it; it's a decision that should have been made long ago.

It's now up to the NFL and Snyder to make this right. Of course, Snyder has previously stated he would never change the team name, but his hand is likely to be forced by this decision.

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