November 19, 2018
Originally posted 2018-11-19 11:20:47
By Ozelle Martin | amdlawgroup.com
There is a well-known professional football team in the National Football League (NFL) called the Washington Redskins, and its logo features a Native American man wearing a feathered headdress. While the franchise has been in existence for over 80 years, there has been much debate surrounding the connotation of the term “redskins.” Moreover, a quick search of the Oxford dictionary defines the term as “an American Indian” with a note that the term is deemed “offensive.” Consequently, the Washington Redskins franchise has found itself in the midst of many fiery discussions as to whether the franchise should be allowed to legally own and utilize the name.
Under the Lanham Act (15 U.S.C §1052), which is the main statutory framework for trademark law in the United States, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) may disapprove trademarks that disparage persons living or dead. As a result, on June 18, 2014- the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of USPTO audaciously decided to revoke the Washington Redskins rights to their trademarks. The Board had determined in their rulings that “these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered, in violation of Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a).”
As word of the trademarks’ cancellations raced through the newswire, many merchandise designers threw confetti in the air and were ready to party like it was 1999, when the Washington Redskins’ trademarks were previously cancelled. These merchandisers thought once again that this decision meant that use of the Redskins name and logo in commerce was now extended to unauthorized merchandise designers. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Over the last few weeks, very few journalists are writing about the fact that the Washington Redskins still legally own their trademarks until all appeals have been exhausted. The appeal process could potentially take years and therefore, it is simply unwise for merchandise designers to start cranking up their printers. Yes, this means that Redskins franchise can still seek legal recourse against unauthorized use of their logo and name, as a license is still required to engage in such commercial activities.
Designers, put away the confetti. The party has not started and it may never start because the Redskins have been here before and have successfully appealed before. Stay tuned.
Image Credit: https://flic.kr/p/aa5mz2