Washington Redskins trademarks cancelled after name deemed 'disparaging' to Native Americans

The team badge trademark was unchanged by the decision

The Washington Redskins’ trademarks has been revoked by the US Patent Office (USPTO) after the name was deemed “disparaging” and offensive.

A campaign to change the team name has grown over the past year and the US senate last month called the Redskins name a “racial slur”. President Obama also became involved to urge a name change.

The team is expected to appeal the decision in what could be a lengthy process during which they will retain the trademark. They are expected to lose as federal law prohibits registered names that are disparaging, scandalous, contemptuous or disreputable.

However, the Redskins won a similar appeal in 1999 by a technicality on the grounds that the plaintiffs should have complained when the trademark was first registered over 30 years earlier.

The case was brought to USPTO’s by law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath on behalf of a group of Native Americans who argued the “Redskins” name was offensive.

Suzan Shown Harjo, one of the five plaintiffs who testified at last year's hearing, said she was "thrilled and delighted" with the decision.

The Redskins can legally continue to use the name but will lose substantial control over third parties who chose to sell products such as jerseys and merchandise that use the cancelled trademarks. This will cause a substantial gap in the team’s income.

The USPTO Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s decision ruled: “We 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.

“The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with our clients that the team’s name and trademarks disparage Native Americans. The Board ruled that the Trademark Office should never have registered these trademarks in the first place.”

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.