The Patent Board has spoken:

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 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.”

Neil Irwin argues that this is the beginning of the end.

It has been assumed, by myself and I believe others, that this ruling – if upheld – would mark the end of the team name. Having thought about it more, I am not so sure. The six trademarks that the board revoked all specify the team name. The team would just redub themselves The Warriors and keep everything else – including the Indian head on the helmet – the same. Or they could simply not do that.

The irony of this ruling is that it doesn’t mean that Dan Snyder and his club can’t use the name, but that anyone now can. If they changed their name, tens of thousands of people who are too cheap to buy Washington Warriors shirts could instead wear unauthorized Washington Redskins shirts that the football team cannot stop anybody from making. This is in contrast to the North Dakota Sioux, who in addition to retiring the name, did retain the copyrights to prevent that sort of thing from happening.

More to the point, though, the rest of the Redskins trademarks are still in tact. You still can’t do the Indian head. You can’t replicate a jersey beyond the basics (which I am pretty sure could be done anyway) so long as they replace the “Redskins” with “Washington”. You can’t replicate their hats. The vast majority of their merchandise sales would be entirely unaffected.

For it to be otherwise, the board would have to say that not only will they deny that trademark, they will deny all trademarks of any organization that uses an offensive name. Among other things, that raises First Amendment issues as that gets into punitive territory. (The police have no positive duty to protect you, but they can’t pass a law saying that they will specifically refuse to protect people who engage in unpopular speech.)

Most owners would probably not go that route. It does seem, increasingly, that the writing is on the wall here. Snyder is stubborn, though, and he may well defy it if the NFL itself doesn’t intervene (which it could). Even so, I naturally resist Irwin’s (or anybody’s) declaration of what the Redskins will “have to do” without demonstration of actual leverage to require them to do it.

I was about to say that it reeks of talk in the late nineties and early aughts that the US would just have to give up control of the Internet because the world was demanding it. But Obama, for no real reason at all, did end up giving it up. Which, despite all of what I say above, may end up being the result here.

Category: Courthouse

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One Response to The End of the Redskins?

  1. kirk says:

    Our government is turning into a Thugocracy, right before our eyes.

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