Share This Page

Trademark board rules against Redskins name

| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 11:33 a.m.
A Washington Redskins football helmet lies on the field during NFL football minicamp, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Ashburn, Va.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Patent Office ruled Wednesday that the Washington Redskins nickname is “disparaging of Native Americans” and that the team's federal trademarks for the name must be canceled.

The 2-1 ruling comes after a campaign to change the name gained momentum over the past year. The team doesn't immediately lose trademark protection and is allowed to retain it during an appeal, which is likely.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder has refused to change the team's name, citing tradition, but there has been growing pressure including statements in recent months from President Barack Obama, lawmakers of both parties and civil rights groups.

The decision means that the team can continue to use the Redskins name, but it would lose a significant portion of its ability to protect the financial interests connected to its use. If others printed the name on sweatshirts, apparel, or other team material, it becomes more difficult to go after groups who use it without permission.

The case involves six registered trademarks that involve the use of the word Redskins, but it does not apply to the team's logo.

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 after the courts decided that the plaintiffs should have filed their complaint soon after the Redskins registered their nickname in 1967.

The new case was launched in 2006 by a younger group of Native Americans, and was heard by the board in March of last year.

The group argued that the Redskins should lose their federal trademark protection based on a law that prohibits registered names that are disparaging, scandalous, contemptuous or disreputable.

Suzan Shown Harjo, one of the plaintiffs who testified at last year's hearing, said she was “thrilled and delighted” with the decision. Snyder declined to speak to reporters as he walked off the practice field, but the team said it planned to release a statement later in the day.

In Washington, lawmakers who have pushed for a name change applauded the decision. In May, half of the Senate wrote letters to the NFL urging the team to change its name.

“Daniel Snyder may be the last person in the world to realize this, but it's just a matter of time until he is forced to do the right thing and change the name,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has said previously he will not attend home games until the team changes its name.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.