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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Feds Nose Into Redskins Trademark Spat

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) - As the Washington Redskins challenge the cancelation of their trademark, the U.S. government has intervened on behalf of the Lanham Act.

The team's owner, Pro-Football, Inc., filed their suit in August 2014, just two months after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) canceled six Washington Redskins trademarks.

Though the complaint names Amanda Blackhorse and four other Native Americans as defendants, the United States now claims that it is in entitled to intervene since the action challenges the constitutionality of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act.

The Lanham Act allows for the cancelation of a trademark that disparages people, institutions, beliefs or national symbols.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce Branda noted in a statement that the Justice Department "is dedicated to defending the constitutionality of the important statute ensuring that trademark issues involving disparaging and derogatory language are dealt with fairly."

"Going forward, we will strive to maintain the ability of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to make its own judgment on these matters, based on clear authorities established by law," she added.

The government's Jan. 9 notice of intervention says it is authorized to intervene in any action in which the constitutionality of an act of Congress is called into question.

The U.S. will coordinate its response to the constitutional challenge with the suit's scheduled briefings, so as not to interrupt the timely adjudication of the case, the government added.

Blackhorse and the other Native Americans named as defendants to Pr-Football's lawsuit filed the petition for cancelation of the Redskins trademarks.

The football team owner called the patent office's decision "singular," "unprecedented," and "replete with errors of fact and law."

"The TTAB's decision violates the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution," its complaint alleges. "This court need give no deference to the TTAB's flawed findings, and should reverse the TTAB's order of cancellation."

"The Redskins Marks are extraordinarily powerful and valuable communicators of information, embodying in a single word or two-word phrase the entirety of the Redskins' long history and rich tradition in the arena of professional football," the complaint continues. "The TTAB's action penalizes the Redskins for communicating to the public based on their marks' content. The cancellation of the Redskins' valuable registrations carries practical and financial impact, as discussed infra. The many benefits to a trademark owner that result from federal registration are meaningful, and their loss comes at a high price."

The next court appearance for the case is a pre-trial conference scheduled for Jan. 15 at 10 a.m.

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