Cancellation of Redskins’ Trademark Upheld

     (CN) – Finding the term undoubtedly disparaging to Native Americans, a federal judge affirmed the cancelation Wednesday of the Washington Redskins’ trademarks.
     Last year, the U.S. Trademark Office ruled that the Washington Redskins cannot keep the trademarks behind its football franchise because the name is “disparaging to Native Americans.”
     Five Native Americans led by Amanda Blackhorse had brought the challenge in 2006, seeking to nullify six of Pro-Football Inc.’s trademarks: five associated with the team and the fifth with its NFL cheerleaders, the Redskinettes.
     Federal law prohibits trademarks that “may disparage” people or “bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”
     A trademark can be canceled on these grounds only if it was considered disparaging at the time it was filed, which in this case was 1967.
     U.S. District Judge Gerald Lee in Alexandria, Va., affirmed the Trademark Office’s ruling Wednesday.
     “The court finds that Blackhorse defendants have shown by a preponderance of the evidence that there is no genuine issue of material facts as to the ‘may disparage’ claim: the record evidence shows that the term ‘redskin,’ in the context of Native Americans, was offensive,” the 70-page decision states.
     Lee noted that, 70 years prior to the mark’s registration, a dictionary definition for the word “redskin” characterized the word as “often contemptuous.”
     Numerous books and journals describe the term as offensive and “derogatory” prior to 1967 as well, and the National Congress of American Indians petitioned for the team’s name to be changed as early as 1972, according to the ruling.
     Skeptical of the team’s proffered dichotomy of “mainstream” versus “avant-garde” Native Americans, Lee cited several instances of Native Americans using the term “redskins” for their own sports teams and as a nickname.
     “It is indisputable that those with ‘non-mainstream’ views on whether a term is disparaging can certainly constitute a substantial composite of a reference group,” Lee said.
     Though many individual Native Americans may not find the term disparaging, Lee said the team’s challengers did not need a majority.
     The decision expressly notes that it has no effect on the team’s use of the word, or whether the Redskins must change their name.
     “To be clear, the court’s judgment is not an order that preclude PFI [Pro Football, Inc.] from using the marks in commerce,” Lee said (emphasis in original). “Nor does the court’s ruling that the Redskins Marks consisted of matter that ‘may disparage’ a substantial composite of Native Americans during the relevant time period preclude sports fans from collecting, wearing, or displaying the Redskins Marks.”
     The decision says that whatever actions Pro-Football Inc. takes going forward with the marks “are a business judgment beyond the purview of this court’s jurisdiction.”
     Jesse Witten, an attorney for Blackhorse and the other challengers, applauded the decision.
     “This is a huge victory,” he told the Washington Post. “Getting this ruling from a U.S. district judge is a watershed event.”
     Witten also reportedly is gearing up for the next stage of litigation.
     “The team has been fighting this case so hard and leaving no stone unturned and scorching every square inch of earth that it’s hard to imagine they will not appeal,” he said.

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