The U.S. Patent Office has ruled, and cancelled Washington Redskins trademarks because the name is “disparaging to Native Americans,” as first reported by Think Progress. The challenge had been brought by lead plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse against Pro Football, Inc., originally filed in 2006. (the decision can be found here.)
As explained below, we decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered, in violation of Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a).
What does this mean? Certainly there will be appeals before such a decision is finalized, but it is a first step toward a potentially troubling situation for Daniel Snyder. As the opinion notes, they can only rule on the statutory right to register, and not the right to use. Washington can still use their logo and name. What they won’t have, if the decision is upheld, is the ability to prohibit others from also using it, to have protection against others who would try to sell merchandise.
That kind of economic pressure may the only thing that might impact Snyder. Without intellectual property protection for the Washington name, logos, caps, t-shirt designs, etc., the merchandise will have less value. As we’ve seen in other cases involving the NFL (see the lockout litigation between the NFLPA and NFL), especially in a politically charged area, the initial ruling does not always hold up. The stakes have been raised, though.
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