Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Cancels Trademark Registration for Washington Redskins
June 27, 2014 Elizabeth Ritter / Lanham Act / Redskins / trademark / TTAB / USPTO
If you’re a football fan, you’re probably used to slow news days this summer. One team, though, has provided us with a bit of news – although it has nothing to do with the game and everything to do with what the team is called.
The Washington Redskins, recently the target of controversy over the political correctness of their team nickname, was recently informed that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, an independent administrative tribunal within the USPTO (the “TTAB”), that their trademark registration for the name “Redskins” has been cancelled. Click here for the full decision.
According to the TTAB, the nickname is “disparaging to Native Americans”, and is contrary to federal law found in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 USC §1052(a), that prohibits names that “disparage… persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”
This is an interesting case, not because the Redskins are now forbidden from using their name – they’re not, and can continue to be called the Redskins – but because the team is now the only team in the NFL (and perhaps the only professional sports team, period) that no longer has trademark protection for its name.
The Redskins no longer have protection under federal law for trademark infringement. This could limit the team’s ability to recover damages – actual or punitive – as well as petition the court for injunctions for unauthorized use of their trademark.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. In 1999, there was a similar ruling levied against the Redskins, a ruling that was successfully appealed in 2009. Whether or not this decision will be successfully appealed has yet to be seen.
This news isn’t so much a legal setback for the Redskins as it is a sign of societal pressure against the team that has endured more than its share of controversy for its nickname over the decades. While this issue is unlikely to force the Redskins owner to issue a name change, it is one sign of growing discontent with the team’s name – discontent that isn’t likely to go away.
Elizabeth Ritter, Ritter Law Firm, LLC