U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Cancels Redskins Trademarks Due To Alleged Racism
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently cancelled six federal trademarks belonging to Pro Football, Inc. who owns the Washington Redskins football team. The team’s logo has not yet been cancelled. The USPTO found that the name “Washington Redskins” is allegedly “disparaging to Native Americans”. The opinion in part was based on reviewing a complaint filed by five Native American Indians (hereinafter, “Petitioners”) who felt the term “Redskins” is offensive and disparaging to this marginalized group of Americans. Petitioners filed the claim pursuant to Section 14 of the Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. § 1064(c).
This is very similar to the complaints filed by Mexican Americans several decades ago for the trademark “Frito Bandito“, a word mark owned by Frito-Lay, Inc. (now a division of PepsiCo). However, in the Frito case, Frito-Lay, the owner of the registration, decided to simply let the mark expire rather than fight a huge costly and public legal battle. The Redskins logo has not yet been cancelled and Football, Inc. is determined to follow the appeal process all the way to the end. Although the Trademark Office ruled that the registration of the mark was a violation, it has no authority to prohibit the use of the mark. This is the second attempt that the Redskins trademark has come under attack by Native Americans, the first time in 1992.
If Football, Inc. loses, this would be a landmark case that could have an adverse impact on many companies such as Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, Inc. of New Mexico. The Santa Fe company owns the trademark to Natural American Spirit which fall under Goods and Services International Class 034 for cigarettes. Natural American Spirit has a logo which in part depicts a “profile of a Native American Chieftain wearing a feathered war bonnet and smoking a peace pipe.” Although it is the term “Redskins” that is in question as potentially holding Native Americans in “contempt” or “disrepute”, these types of logos that visually typecast Native Americans can also come under scrutiny in the future.
Additionally, this ruling could financially ruin Football, Inc. and the Washington Redskins brand. Dan Snyder, owner of the Redskins, is refusing to change the football team’s brand based on his claim of “tradition.” However, he may eventually crumble under the weight of President Obama and other Civil Rights groups who are bearing down on him. If I were Mr. Snyder, I would settle the matter with the Native Americans by making a substantial donation to various Native American groups and non-profit organizations as well as cutting them in on the profits made by the football team in both ticket sales and merchandising. However, this is only my personal opinion as I am not an attorney and do not offer legal advice in this matter.
However, as companies who rely on our trademarks to protect our brands of services and goods, we all need to keep a close eye on the final outcome of this USPTO case. I am confident that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with make the right decision to protect the interests of everyone involved. In the meantime, here is the 177 page USPTO ruling as well as all the legal pleadings to date filed in this matter by respective counsels of record.
[Editor’s Note: Two excellent Intellectual Property Law Firms that I recommend for their outstanding work in protecting trademarks are J. Andrew Coombs, A Professional Corporation and Wolk & Levine, LLP, both located in Glendale, California. Please read our LEGAL DISCLAIMER.]
– Des Manttari, Editor-in-Chief, Phoenix Genesis
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