After the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cancelled trademark protections for the NFL's Washington Redskins franchise, deciding that the team name and logo were “disparaging,” the Redskins once again provided a reality check for the Obama administration.
The Washington Redskins' attorney Bob Raskopf replied to the ruling in a statement (via the Washington Post):
“We’ve seen this story before. And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo.
‘Redskins Are Denied Trademarks’
-Washington Post, April 3, 1999
‘Redskins Can Keep Trademark, Judge Rules’
-Washington Post, October 2, 2003
We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s divided ruling will be overturned on appeal. This case is no different than an earlier case, where the Board cancelled the Redskins’ trademark registrations, and where a federal district court disagreed and reversed the Board.
As today’s dissenting opinion correctly states, “the same evidence previously found insufficient to support cancellation” here “remains insufficient” and does not support cancellation.
This ruling – which of course we will appeal – simply addresses the team’s federal trademark registrations, and the team will continue to own and be able to protect its marks without the registrations. The registrations will remain effective while the case is on appeal.
When the case first arose more than 20 years ago, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled on appeal in favor of the Washington Redskins and their trademark registrations.
As the district court’s ruling made clear in 2003, the evidence ‘is insufficient to conclude that during the relevant time periods the trademark at issue disparaged Native Americans...’ The court continued, ‘The Court concludes that the [Board’s] finding that the marks at issue ‘may disparage’ Native Americans is unsupported by substantial evidence, is logically flawed, and fails to apply the correct legal standard to its own findings of fact.’ Those aren’t my words. That was the court’s conclusion. We are confident that when a district court review’s today’s split decision, it will reach a similar conclusion.
In today’s ruling, the Board’s Marc Bergsman agreed, concluding in his dissenting opinion:
It is astounding that the petitioners did not submit any evidence regarding the Native American population during the relevant time frame, nor did they introduce any evidence or argument as to what comprises a substantial composite of that population thereby leaving it to the majority to make petitioner’s case have some semblance of meaning.
The evidence in the current claim is virtually identical to the evidence a federal judge decided was insufficient more than ten years ago. We expect the same ultimate outcome here.”
U.S. attorney and conservative radio host Mark Levin pointed out that Common Law legally prevents other parties from commercially using the Redskins' team name and logo. The Washington football team's name has not been “cancelled” and they are not being forced to use a different name and logo.
No team picks a name & logo that they find to be insulting or demeaning - that simply defies credulity. The Washington Redskins' history bears this out and the team has stated repeatedly that its name is a tribute, not a “slur.”
Former team owner George Marshall, the man who changed the team name from the Boston Braves to the “Redskins” in the 1930s, is now buried on Indian Mound Cemetery in Romney, West Virginia. Indeed, the team fight song is “Hail to the Redskins” - so much for its name being “disparaging”!
Of course, the selective way in that the Obama administration chooses whose rights to protect and whose rights not to protect raises serious questions. In no way does the perceived offense of any group overrule the equal rights of all Americans to free speech and intellectual property rights.