U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Revokes Redskins Trademark

Washington Redskins v St Louis RamsA panel of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office judges has canceled the trademark for the Redskins, a Washington D.C. football team. The team has held trademarks on the name since the 1970s, but a group of five Native Americans contested the trademark, asserting that it is degrading and dehumanizing. The panel concurred, and if the team does not appeal the decision, it will no longer own the trademark to the team’s name.

Redskin: Racist Slur or Harmless Team Name?

Although the Merriam-Webster dictionary lists the term redskin as a “usually offensive” term for Native Americans, opinions on the term vary greatly. Although fans of the Redskins have asserted that most Native Americans don’t find the term offensive, a 2014 study found that 67% of Native Americans say the term redskin is a racist slur. Seventy-nine percent of the non-native population supports the word.

The Panel’s Findings

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the primary arbiter of trademarks in the United States. On March 7, 2013, it conducted a hearing on the status of the Redskins’ team trademark. The Redskins asserted that the name did not necessarily denote Native Americans and that the term was not offensive.

In its 177-page ruling, though, the USPTO panel explained, “…the evidence overwhelmingly supports a determination that the term REDSKINS as it appears in the mark retains the meaning Native Americans.” To support this conclusion, the panel cited numerous fans dressed in “Indian” garb and references to Native Americans in the team’s logo.

The panel was then left to determine whether the term redskin is an offensive slur. The panel notes expert testimony from several linguists about the derogatory nature of the term, dictionary definitions suggesting redskin is a racist slur, a resolution by the National Congress of American Indians labeling the term a racist one, as well as other evidence, including a history of the term being used as a racist slur in anti-Native American media reports. From this evidence, the panel concluded that the term both referred to Native Americans and is derogatory, and revoked the trademark.

Does the Team Have to Change Its Name?

A trademark protects a company or individual’s right to use a unique name or logo, and to prevent others from using the trademark. The revocation of the Redkins’ trademark does not mean the team has to change its name. Instead, it means the team can no longer profit from trademarked merchandise and will be unable to prevent third parties from using the term for profit. According to the USPTO, the team may still have the common law right to protect its trademark. The team still has the option to appeal the ruling to cancel its trademark.

References:

  1. Johnson, A. (2013, May 3). Poll: Nearly 80 percent approve of ‘Redskins’ name. Retrieved from http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nationalreview.com%2Fcorner%2F347336%2Fpoll-nearly-80-percent-approve-approve-%25E2%2580%2598redskins%25E2%2580%2599-name-higher-among-american-indians
  2. Johnson, R. (2014, June 4). 67 Percent of Native Americans say ‘Redskins’ is offensive. Retrieved from http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/06/04/67-percent-native-americans-say-redskins-offensive-155143?page=0%2C1
  3. Media fact sheet [PDF]. (2014, June 18). Washington, D.C.: United States Patent and Trademark Office.
  4. USPTO TTABVUE. Proceeding number 92046185. (2014, June 18). Retrieved from http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/v?pno=92046185&pty=CAN&eno=199

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  • 6 comments
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  • Martin

    Martin

    June 19th, 2014 at 5:48 PM

    dumbest move ever- no one actually has to do much of anything except find a new way to continue to profit from the franchise.

  • kent

    kent

    June 20th, 2014 at 4:27 AM

    This has to feel like a loss to those who wanted them to stop using the name altogether. And how can they not still profit from it if the team name doesn’t have to be changed? It sounds like a whole lot of legalese that most of us are going to fail to understand and even after reading this I am still not too sure who wins with this one.

  • Cheyenne

    Cheyenne

    June 20th, 2014 at 12:00 PM

    So they don’t have to change their name but they can’t sell goods with the name anymore? How is this is any way changing the fact that there are people offended by the term and thsi should be changed? This doesn’t make the images and the words go away, and there will always be ploys for them to get away with keeping this in business. I just think that the only right decision would have been to make them change their name and move forward from this term which has meant so many negative things to a part of our nation’s population for many many years now. We wouldn’t accept it if it was derogatory toward women or other ethnic groups so why is it an exception when it comes to our Native American population? It is shameful and needs to be changed.

  • RunninFast

    RunninFast

    June 21st, 2014 at 8:51 AM

    Different words are going to have different meanings for different people. It’s always going to be like that. What offends me may have no impact on you whatsoever. But with that also comes the realization that just because it does not cause me pain, I should at least be mindful of how others feel and I should take that into account and choose my words wisely.
    This is a national organization who should have had the forethought to change the name years ago; it would have been better if no one in the past had ever thought that it was acceptable but they did and that is the reality. But today’s reality also tells us that this is wrong and that we all have some changes to make in the way that we think and interact with others, and this is the first step of many more that will (hopefully) come.

  • dani

    dani

    June 23rd, 2014 at 4:31 AM

    The question for me is why has this taken so long to get up and running?

  • Paulina

    Paulina

    June 25th, 2014 at 1:25 PM

    This organization has millions of dollars to fight this ruling and you better believe that they are going to fight it until the bitter end.
    This is in no way close to being over. In fact I think that for many involved in this case they see this as only the beginning of what is sure to be a protracted and drawn out court case.
    Money is sure to keep the wheels of the justice system greased for a very long time.

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