US Patent Office Invalidates Washington Redskins Trademark.

Washington-Redskins-Wood-ROHThe US Patent Office has invalidated the trademark for the NFL’s Washington Redskins.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the Washington Redskins trademark registration, calling the football team’s name “disparaging to Native Americans.” (See the opinion here.)

The landmark case, which appeared before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, was filed on behalf of five Native Americans. It was the second time such a case was filed.

“This victory was a long time coming and reflects the hard work of many attorneys at our firm,” said lead attorney

Jesse Witten, of Drinker Biddle & Reath.

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 ruling does not mean that the Redskins have to change the name of the team. It does affect whether the team and the NFL can make money from merchandising because it limits the team’s legal options when others use the logos and the name on T shirts, sweatshirts, beer glasses and license plate holders.

The name of the Redskins is controversial and we can understand why. Many people including native American groups, writers, elected officials and even the “common man on the street” have called for the name to be changed. In the face of the face of the pressure, the Redskins owner, Daniel Snyder and the NFL have said they will keep the name.

Frankly, we are troubled by the government saying one thing is “disparaging” and another thing is not. This is certainly a case where the market should decide. If you don’t like the name “Redskins” for the Washington football team, don’t support them.

Don’t go to their games.

Don’t buy their merchandise.

It’s that easy.

Of course, there has been a lot been a lot of suggested names for the team if they decide to change away from “Redskins.”

We have heard suggestions of calling them “the Clintons” because “the only way they can score is under a desk.”

Walter Olson at notes that if the government is going to outlaw the trademarks of teams because they the name is disparaging, the name “Washington Senators” has to go.

A commenter on the Overlawyered thread notes:

I suggest a new team name: Washington Politicians. Nickname can be the Pols.

It fits because neither the football team nor the real politicians have won anything meaningful in recent memory, neither rate very highly in public opinion, and neither has shown much ability to advance the ball when necessary.

It is easy to make jokes about this but there is a serious point to be made when the government starts to decide what it will protect or decide is “disparaging.”

Don’t believe us?

The terms “negro” and “colored” are now considered “disparaging” or “offensive” when speaking about black or African-Americans.

Hold your hand up if you think there is any chance the US Patent Office would ever rule against the trademark of NAACP or the “United Negro College Fund.”

Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

If the Redskins want to have a name that offends people, let ’em. In the larger scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. More importantly, the name of a team or the trademark of a team is not where the government should have its nose.

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