Washington Redskins name loses patent protection

Jun 18, 2014

The U.S. Patent Office has canceled the trademark of the Washington Redskins professional football team, ruling that it is offensive to Native Americans. 

It was efforts from the Oneida Indian Nation that put the name back in the spotlight.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled Wednesday the Redskins nickname is "disparaging of Native Americans" and will no longer be protected. Patent law disallows the use of offensive names as trademarks.

"We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be canceled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered," the board wrote.

It is a similar ruling to one the same board made in 2003, but the Washington Redskins appealed and won. This case was brought on by a different group of Native Americans in 2006. The Redskins will be able to keep the protection through another appeals process.

The ruling also has no affect on the team's ability to use the name, just its trademark protection.

"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," said Redskins patent attorney Bob Raskopf in a statement.

It was the Oneida Indian Nation that brought the issue back into the national spotlight last year when it launched its Change the Mascot campaign. The Oneida say the nickname is offensive and a racial slur.

Today, nation representative Ray Halbritter and Jackie Pata of the National Congress of American Indians praised the decision in a joint statement:

If the most basic sense of morality, decency and civility has not yet convinced the Washington team and the NFL to stop using this hateful slur, then hopefully today’s patent ruling will, if only because it imperils the ability of the team’s billionaire owner to keep profiting off the denigration and dehumanization of Native Americans. 

The Change Mascot campaign was followed by half the U.S. Senate and members of the House calling for the name to lose its patent protection.

Change the Mascot launched a national television ad campaign this month that aired during the NBA championship.

Redskins' team owner Daniel Snyder has said several times he will not change the name, saying it's used with honor. 

Raskopf said he's confident their appeal will succeed again. 

"The evidence in the current claim is virtually identical to the evidence a federal judge decided was insufficient more than ten years ago," Raskopf wrote. "We expect the same ultimate outcome here."