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Trademark Board Rules Against Redskins Name

The helmet of a Washington Redskins player (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

The helmet of a Washington Redskins player (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Patent Office has ruled the Washington Redskins nickname is “disparaging of Native Americans” and that the team’s federal trademarks for the name must be canceled.

The ruling announced Wednesday comes after a campaign to change the name has gained momentum over the past year.

The decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board is similar to one it issued in 1999. That ruling was overturned in 2003 in large part on a technicality because the courts decided that the plaintiffs were too old.

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The new case was launched in 2006 by a younger group of Native Americans. A hearing was held in March 2013.

Just like last time, the Redskins can retain their trademark protection during an appeal.

KRLD’s Emily Trube spoke with Dallas intellectual property attorney Kelly Kubasta, who shares his thoughts on the board’s ruling.

IP attorney Kelly Kubasta

78566782 Trademark Board Rules Against Redskins Name
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The Washington Redskins have issued the following statement regarding the ruling:

“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.

Why?

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.”

 

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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