Intellectual Property Attorney

U.S. Patent & Trademark Office Cancels Six Of The Washington REDSKINS Football Team’s Trademark Registrations

As the NFL’s Washington REDSKINS football team began another day of mini-camp practice this morning, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office issued a decision granting a petition to cancel six trademark registrations containing the term “REDSKINS”.

The decision states:

[W]e decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered, in violation of Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C § 1052(a).

The decision comes on the heels of a raging public debate concerning whether the “REDSKINS” trademark is disparaging and offensive to Native Americans and whether the Washington REDSKINS football team should change its name.

Grimes LLC attorney Michael Patrick (a lifelong fan of the Washington REDSKINS football team) has covered challenges to the Washington REDSKINS football team’s trademarks (which are owned by the team’s corporate entity, Pro-Football, Inc.) in two previous posts (first post and second
post) and has followed the history of the football team, as well as its use of the term REDSKINS, for over a decade. In 2006, Michael Patrick wrote about this issue in an article titled
The Disparaging Trademark Dilemma: Reality after Harjo v. Pro Football, Inc. (IP Litigator, January/02 2006).

We will more fully analyze the decision in a future post. We note, however, that the decision was not supported by all of the judges. Administrative Trademark Judge Marc Bergsman wrote a dissenting opinion where he concluded that the registrations should not be cancelled:

In view of the above, “after a careful study of all the facts” and “due caution,” I find that petitioners failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that a substantial composite of Native Americans found the term REDSKINS to be disparaging in connection with respondent’s services during the relevant time frame of 1967-1990. Accordingly, the six registrations should not be cancelled under Sections 2(a) and 14(3) of the Trademark Act.

Although we assume that the Washington REDSKINS football team will challenge the decision, we note that the decision does not preclude the team from “using” the REDSKINS term, it merely precludes registration of the term as a trademark.

The case is Blackhorse, et al. v. Pro-Football, Inc., Cancellation No. 92/046,185.

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