Indians Too Late in Suing Over Redskins Trademark

     (CN) – Seven American Indians waited too long to sue Pro Football Inc. over its allegedly disparaging use of six Redskins trademarks, the D.C. Circuit ruled. The court based its decision on the team’s long-standing use of the name and plaintiffs’ delay in filing suit.

     The plaintiffs sued Pro Football in 1992, 25 years after the mark’s first registration in 1967.
     The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board canceled the marks despite the filing delay, citing the plaintiffs’ interest in preventing “a substantial segment of the population” from being exposed “to public ridicule.”
     Pro Football fought the holding with a federal lawsuit in Washington, D.C. It asserted the doctrine of laches, a defense that essentially accuses the Indians of negligence in waiting so long to sue.
     The district court sided with Pro Football on the laches issue, but the D.C. Circuit reversed. The federal appeals court noted that the youngest plaintiff, Mateo Romero, was only a year old when the first Redskins mark was registered.
     The D.C. Circuit asked the district court to reconsider Pro Football’s claim based on the seven-year, nine-month delay since Romero’s eighteenth birthday.
     The district court again ruled for Pro Football on remand, concluding that the delay, though shorter, indicated a lack of diligence on Romero’s part.
     The federal appeals court affirmed.
     “Eight years is a long time – a delay made only more unreasonable by Romero’s acknowledged exposure to the various Redskins trademarks well before reaching the age of maturity,” Judge Tatel wrote.
     The judge added that the delay limited Pro Football’s ability to marshal evidence supporting its defense, since much of that evidence was lost. Also, the team had invested heavily in a mark that Romero waited too long to attack, the court concluded.
     The three-judge panel also rejected Romero’s attack on the trademarked name of the team’s cheerleaders, the Redskinettes, which Pro Football first registered in 1990.
     Although the delay was much shorter in the case of the Redskinettes, the name “had been in use well before the date of registration,” Tatel wrote.

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