Once again, the United States Patent and Trademark Office has cancelled the National Football League’s trademark registrations for the nickname ‘Redskins,’ in association with the Washington Redskins football team, on the grounds that the name disparages Native Americans, and this time the decision could actually stick.
On June 18, 2014, the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board cancelled six trademark registrations for variations of the name ‘Redskins’ registered under the Lanham Act by respondent Pro-Football, Inc. (owner and operator of the Redskins). The Board held that, pursuant to Section 14(3) of the Lanham Act, the trademarks had been registered in violation of Section 2(a), which prohibits trademarks consisting of “matter which may disparage . . . persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” After an exhaustive review of the record, the Board concluded that the petitioners—five Native Americans—had sufficiently demonstrated that a “substantial composite of Native Americans” found the name to be disparaging in connection with Pro-Football’s services. The Board noted that a ‘substantial composite’ of a group did not necessarily mean a majority of that group, and it rejected any argument that a ‘substantial composite’ of a group required homogenous opinions within that group. Interestingly, while the Board’s decision cancelled registrations pertaining to the name ‘Redskins’ and several variations of the name that occur in combination with logos, the plain Washington Redskins team logo itself was not cancelled because it was not at issue in the case. Continue reading