To borrow Joe Biden’s infamous quote, “This is a big f—ing deal.”
The United States Patent and Trademark Office has canceled six federal trademark registrations for the name of the Washington Redskins, ruling that the name is “disparaging to Native Americans” and thus cannot be trademarked under federal law that prohibits the protection of offensive or disparaging language.
The U.S. PTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board issued a ruling in the case, brought against the team by plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse, Wednesday morning.
“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,” the board wrote in its opinion, which is here. A brief explanation of how the Board reached its decision is here.
“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,” Jesse Witten, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, said in a press release. “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.”(Think Progress)
At present, there’s no immediate impact; odds are, this will go through the appeals process – and given the vagaries of the federal court system, there are no guarantees that this decision won’t be overturned on appeal. On the other hand, given the fact that every team in the NFL – except for the Dallas Cowboys – share in the revenues from team merchandising, if the Redskins lose their trademark all together and the NFL begins losing revenue as a result, don’t be surprised if the league goes to Daniel Snyder and ‘pushes’ him into changing the team, using that arbiter of market forces – the almighty dollar – as the proverbial cudgel. For what its’ worth, I also wouldn’t be surprised if various groups start pressing Redskins’ players over the issue.