Trademark Turnstile: Redskins Respond To Patent Office Ruling

The Redskins have issued a response to the USPTO's decision to cancel the team's trademarked Redskins name.

In a media-wide email today, the Redskins issued the following statement from the organization's trademark attorney, Bob Raskopf regarding today’s split decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board:

"We’ve seen this story before.   And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo."

The team's logo, seen above, is not the issue.  The Redskin name is.

‘Redskins Are Denied Trademarks’
-Washington Post, April 3, 1999

‘Redskins Can Keep Trademark, Judge Rules’
-Washington Post, October 2, 2003

We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s divided ruling will be overturned on appeal.  This case is no different than an earlier case, where the Board cancelled the Redskins’ trademark registrations, and where a federal district court disagreed and reversed the Board.

As today’s dissenting opinion correctly states, “the same evidence previously found insufficient to support cancellation” here “remains insufficient” and does not support cancellation.     
This ruling – which of course we will appeal – simply addresses the team’s federal trademark registrations, and the team will continue to own and be able to protect its marks without the registrations.  The registrations will remain effective while the case is on appeal. 

When the case first arose more than 20 years ago, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled on appeal in favor of the Washington Redskins and their trademark registrations.        


As the district court’s ruling made clear in 2003, the evidence ‘is insufficient to conclude that during the relevant time periods the trademark at issue disparaged Native Americans...’ The court continued, ‘The Court concludes that the [Board’s] finding that the marks at issue ‘may disparage’ Native Americans is unsupported by substantial evidence, is logically flawed, and fails to apply the correct legal standard to its own findings of fact.’ Those aren’t my words. That was the court’s conclusion.  We are confident that when a district court review’s today’s split decision, it will reach a similar conclusion.

In today’s ruling, the Board’s Marc Bergsman agreed, concluding in his dissenting opinion: 

It is astounding that the petitioners did not submit any evidence regarding the Native American population during the relvant time frame, nor did they introduce any evidence or argument as to what comprises a substantial composite of that population thereby leaving it to the majority to make petitioner’s case have some semblance of meaning.
The evidence in the current claim is virtually identical to the evidence a federal judge decided was insufficient more than ten years ago. 

We expect the same ultimate outcome here.”

- end of statement -

You may recall the statement the organization presented to support their position that the term 'Redskin' "originated as an expression of solidarity" and that the "logo was designed by Native Americans".

Despite these findings, there are still some Native Americans who find the term offensive.

The US Patent Office released their findings as to agree, citing the term is "disparaging to Native Americans."  

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), an independent administrative tribunal within the USPTO, has determined, based on the evidence presented by the parties and on applicable law, that the Blackhorse petitioners carried their burden of proof. By a preponderance of the evidence, the petitioners established that the term “Redskins” was disparaging of Native Americans, when used in relation to professional football services, at the times the various registrations involved in the cancellation proceeding were issued. Thus, in accordance with applicable law, the federal registrations for the “Redskins” trademarks involved in this proceeding must be cancelled. 

See the cancellation here.

Comments of Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton via Press Release

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), a leader in the effort to cancel the Washington Football Team’s trademark and to convince the team’s owner and the commissioner of the National Football League (NFL) to voluntarily change the team’s name, today celebrated the ruling by the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Trademark Trial and Appeal Board that the term “Redskins” is disparaging to Native Americans, thereby canceling federal registrations for the “Redskins” trademarks.  This is the second time the board has issued such a ruling, though the first was overturned by the courts on procedural grounds.

“The handwriting was almost indelibly on the wall that this historic decision was close to inevitable if the USPTO followed its own precedents,” said Norton.  “The USPTO’s first decision finding the name ‘disparaging’ was not overturned on the merits but on a technicality, and on four separate occasions since then, the USPTO has turned down attempts to register the same name.  As if that were not enough, a grassroots movement led by Native people themselves and organizations that represent them has spread with allies of every background and Members of the House and Senate.  Team owner Daniel Snyder instead tried to turn the name on its head, but there was no way to put a positive cover on a name with racist origins.  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s failure to exercise the needed leadership guaranteed that it would take the law to force a change.  We in the District of Columbia are particularly relieved about the ruling, which upholds values of the people of the District of Columbia.  Goodell still has an opportunity to exercise some leadership.  He, the other NFL team owners and FedEx should urge Snyder not to appeal this ruling. It is time for the team and the NFL to put this issue to rest.”

Last year, Norton and nine other members of Congress sent letters to Goodell, team owner Daniel Snyder, the 31 other NFL franchises, and Washington football team sponsor FedEx, urging a change in the team name.  In addition, Congressman Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS) introduced a bill, which Norton and the others who signed the letter cosponsored, to cancel existing trademark registrations containing the term “Redskins," and deny registration for new trademarks using the term.

As the team prepares to rap up mini camp, and prepare for training camp on July 24th in Richmond, one thing is for sure --- this issue will continue to raise its turnstile-like head, while folks following along, will continue shaking theirs.

#SMH  #RedskinsTrademarkTurnstile

Do 90% of Native Americans wear the Redskins name with pride?  Glenn Beck thinks so.

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Former Redskin players comment:

Ric Doc Walker:  "The Redskins' name is appalling to me."

Brian Mitchell: "I am 1/4 Blackfoot."

Redskins Caucus formed in support of Redskins name.