U.S. Patent Office Cancels Washington Redskins’ Trademark Registration

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The debate over the Washington Redskins’ name has been going on for months now, but yesterday, a major decision was made in the dispute, making it look like that Washington will soon be forced to change its name after all.  The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) cancelled the Washington Redskins’ trademark registration, calling the team’s name “disparaging to Native Americans,” and while this does make the Redskins’ organization more inclined to change its name, it doesn’t force them to.

“This decision concerns only the statutory right to registration,” the PTO said in statement. “We lack statutory authority to issue rulings concerning the right to use trademarks.”

Although this decision doesn’t necessarily mean that the Washington Redskins will change their name, it does make it very difficult for both the NFL and the team itself from a legal standpoint, as they both no longer possess as much power as they had before to stop bootleg merchandise from being produced.  Because of the PTO’s verdict, virtually anyone can now make and sell “Redskins”-branded apparel and souvenirs and sell it at much cheaper prices than what the official merchandise actually costs. If this were to happen, not only would Washington see its own profits dwindle, but it would also affect every other team in the NFL, due to the league’s revenue-sharing model.

It’s expected that the Redskins’ organization will file an appeal, of course. Washington’s owner Dan Snyder has been very vocal about how he feels about this issue.

“We’ll never change the name,” Snyder said when the problem was first brought to his attention. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

The team’s trademark attorney, Bob Raskopf, feels “confident we will prevail” and says that “of course” the statement will be overturned.

However, no matter the history of the name or the possible financial issues that a name change would cause, Washington must find some type of way to respect the feelings of those who feel offended and personally attacked.

“The team’s name is racist and derogatory,” said plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse in a statement. “I’ve said it before and I will say it again—if people wouldn’t dare call a Native American a ‘redskin’ because they know it is offensive, how can an NFL football team have this name?”

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images


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