The U.S. Patent Office may have ruled to cancel six trademarks relating to the Washington Redskins’ name on Wednesday, but owner Daniel Snyder is not legally required to change it.
Citing federal law that prohibits the use of disparaging or offensive phrases in a trademark, the U.S. Patent Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board revoked the right of Pro-Football Inc. (the organization that owns and operates the team) to register the Redskins name. But the official statement revealed that the decision won’t prevent the National Football League’s Washington franchise from continuing to use the name.
“This decision concerns only the statutory right to registration,” the appeal board’s opinion said. “We lack statutory authority to issue rulings concerning the right to use trademarks.”
By revoking the existing trademarks on the Redskins name, the U.S. Patent Office has effectively allowed any person or company to use the moniker at will; the ruling lifts restrictions on the use of the Redskins logo, as well as that of its cheerleading squad, the “Redskinettes,” for entertainment purposes.
Thus, in theory, any businessman can now sell Redskins merchandise, with or without the franchise’s consent. However, Pro-Football Inc. can still attempt to use state and common law to block the use of the Redskins image, USA Today noted in May.
The Redskins will almost assuredly appeal the board’s decision; Snyder has stated on numerous occasions that he has no intention of changing the franchise’s name, which he has referred to as a “badge of pride." Throughout that expected appeal -- which could drag on in court for years – Pro-Football Inc. would continue to have exclusive rights to their trademarks.
But even a failed appeal wouldn’t stop Snyder from using the Redskins name; it would just prevent him from exclusively profiting from it. Still, such a move wouldn’t make sense from an economic standpoint, given the potentially massive impact that outside competition would have on merchandise sales -- never mind the public relations disaster clinging to the name would represent.
Though fans shouldn’t expect the NFL’s Washington franchise to have a new name for the 2014 season, now that a branch of the federal government has officially ruled that the word “Redskins” is racially offensive, Snyder and his compatriots have officially lost the battle in the court of public opinion.