Team owner not surrendering trademark protections without a fight
A federal judge has ruled that the owners of the Washington Redskins should be allowed to pursue legal action against a group of Native Americans who are attempting to block the team’s trademark protection. Back in August, the Redskins sued to reverse a previous ruling siding with the activists who seek to destroy the team’s allegedly racist brand, and today, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee denied the activists’ request to dismiss the suit.
The Washington Post has the background on the case:
The five Native Americans — Blackhorse, Phillip Glover, Marcus Briggs-Cloud, Jillian Pappan and Courtney Tsotigh, members of American Indian tribes in Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah, Nebraska, and Florida — are the second group to mount a challenge to the team’s trademark protection.
The first group was led by Suzan Shown Harjo, who filed a petition in 1992. The patent office ruled in the group’s favor, but the Redskins appealed in federal court and won on a technicality: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that Harjo and the other plaintiffs had waited too long after turning 18 to complain about the Redskins name. But the court did not rule on whether the team name was disparaging.
In the new case, Blackhorse and the other defendants filed their petition in 2006 when they were in their late teens and early 20s, ages considered early enough to file their grievances. They argue that federal trademark law bars the patent office from registering trademarks that “may disparage” groups or individuals. The law enables people to petition the office if they’ve been injured by a trademark and feel it was unlawfully awarded.
This is an old battle, but given the level of racial tension in America right now, it’s more relevant than ever. Back in June, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Redskins trademark registration, citing concerns that the branding was disparaging toward Native Americans. (Federal trademark law prohibits registration of trademarks that “may disparage” or bring individuals or groups “into contempt or disrepute.”) In the board’s decision, it said that although many Native Americans do not find the trademark to be disparaging, it based its decision on whether or not there was evidence “that a substantial composite of the Native American population found the term ‘Redskins’ to be disparaging when the respective registrations [were] issued.”
Now, however, team owners can present fresh evidence defending their choice to maintain their trademarks and branding—and they have a strong case. Their argument is twofold: first, that the trademark was not disparaging when obtained, and second, that it is not now, nor was it ever intended to be disparaging.
I think that, given the actual legal standards in play (oh, those,) that activists are going to have a hard time forcing the ‘skins to give up their trademarks. But given the atmosphere of racial tension currently being fueled by our own president, I don’t expect the pressure on the franchise to dissipate any time soon.DONATE
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