Washington’s football team on Thursday filed a formal appeal related to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to invalidate six of the team’s federal trademarks on grounds that use of the word “Redskins” was “disparaging to Native Americans.”
The U.S. PTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeals Board ruled in June that the team’s name could not be protected because federal trademark law prohibits protections for disparaging or offensive terms.
The team filed the appeal, which was widely expected in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The release announcing the appeal says the team will challenge the Trademark Board’s ruling on grounds that it violates the team’s First Amendment speech rights and Fifth Amendment intellectual property rights.
In the release, the team notes that it has filed the appeal “in the form of a complaint, effectively starting the litigation anew, this time in a federal court before a federal judge, and not in the administrative agency that issued the recent split decision.”
“We believe that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ignored both federal case law and the weight of the evidence, and we look forward to having a federal court review this obviously flawed decision,” Bob Raskopf, the team’s trademark attorney, said in release announcing the appeal.
The team looks “forward to all of the issues in the case being heard in federal court under the federal rules of evidence,” Raskopf said. “The team is optimistic that the court will correctly and carefully evaluate the proofs, listen to the arguments, and confirm the validity of the Washington Redskins’ federal trademark registrations, just as another federal court has already found in a virtually identical case.”
The Board’s ruling marked the second time it has invalidated the team’s trademarks. It ruled similarly in 1999 as part of a separate case that was later overturned on appeal, though the plaintiffs in this case believe they have fixed the issues that led to that reversal.
The team will maintain its federal trademark protections while the appeal process plays out. In the previous case, four years passed between the Trademark Board’s original decision and the appeal, so it is unlikely that this case will reach a resolution any time soon.
Here is the Trademark Board’s full decision and a brief explanation of how it reached it. Here is a full run-down of what trademark experts say the Board’s ruling — and the appeals process — could mean for the future of the name Native American activists refer to as a “dictionary-defined slur.”
“This effort is doomed to fail,” Amanda Blackhorse, the lead plaintiff in the complaint challenging the name’s trademarks, said in a statement. “Open any dictionary you want — Random House, Merriam-Webster, American Heritage — and you will find a usage note explaining that the term is a disparaging way to refer to Native Americans.”
“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?” Blackhorse continued. “We know that time is on our side for a change in the team’s name, and we are confident we will win once again at this stage of the litigation.”