In a stunning move, the U.S. Patent Office has reportedly canceled six federal trademarks related to the Washington Redskins team name.
The U.S. Patent Office made its decision in reference to a lawsuit brought by five Native American plaintiffs against Pro-Football, Inc., the company that owns and operates the Washington National Football League club. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled that the Redskins name is “disparaging to Native Americans,” a violation of federal laws which prevent the use of offensive or disparaging language in a trademark.
“We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be canceled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered,” the board ruled on Wednesday. The trademark registrations were granted between 1967 and 1990.
“This decision concerns only the statutory right to registration under Section 2(a),” the opinion added. “We lack statutory authority to issue rulings concerning the right to use trademarks.”
Jesse Witten, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, said in a statement obtained by the blog ThinkProgress: “The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with our clients that the team’s name and trademarks disparage Native Americans. The Board ruled that the Trademark Office should never have registered these trademarks in the first place.
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“We presented a wide variety of evidence -- including dictionary definitions and other reference works, newspaper clippings, movie clips, scholarly articles, expert linguist testimony, and evidence of the historic opposition by Native American groups -- to demonstrate that the word ‘redskin’ is an ethnic slur.”
This is the second time that the Trial and Appeals Board has rescinded the Redskins’ trademark protections. A similar ruling was issued in 1992, only to be overturned upon appeal. However, the plaintiffs in this case claim that they have fixed the technicality that allowed that appeal to succeed.
Furthermore, the ruling won't force the Redskins to immediately change their team name. They are expected to appeal the decision and will continue to have exclusive rights to their name for the time being.