Change the Mascot Hails Cancellation of Washington Redskins Trademarks

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The fight against the Washington Redskins mascot just got a whole lot more interesting.

Today, the US Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the organization’s trademarks related to its team mascot after the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) ruled that the marks were “disparaging” to Native Americans. 

While the trademarks are no longer viable, the team can continue to use them—though with no protection from unauthorized merchants that sell Redskins gear, a stipulation that could drive the team’s valuation down over time.

The action was the result of a lawsuit against the team filed by “five Native Americans” eight years ago, the USPTO said. “This victory was a long time coming and reflects the hard work of many attorneys at our firm,” lead attorney Jesse Witten, of Drinker Biddle & Reath, told the Washington Post.[more]

As intellectual property lawyer Darren Heitner points out, “The decision by the TTAB does not require the Washington D.C.-based NFL team to change its name, stop using the ‘Redskins’ marks and it does not mean that the organization loses all legal rights in the marks.”

Still, it’s being hailed as a significant milestone in the ongoing battle over the controversial NFL mascot, which inspired a moving TV ad funded by the Change the Mascot coalition of Native American groups that aired during the NBA Finals last week.

The commercial followed previous protests, petitions and radio ads demanding that the Redskins and owner Dan Snyder change the name of the mascot. Snyder, however, has continually rebuffed the efforts. He even told USA Today in May of last year that it could use capital letters when he said that the name change would NEVER happen.

After the announcement today, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, a longtime supporter of the Change the Mascot movement, said, “The writing is on the wall. And it’s on the wall in giant blinking neon lights. The name will change and justice will be done.” 

Indeed, following the debut of the TV ad last week that was funded by the National Congress of American Indians and the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation of California, the hashtag #ProudToBe flooded social media. Today, following the announcement, #NewRedskinsName began trending on Twitter. 

Public sentiment may only go so far. The Post notes that the team was in a similar position back in 1999 and won an appeal, while in 2009 another lawsuit was refused by the Supreme Court. Though thanks to social media, the conversation is much bigger now than it was in 1999.

• Connect with Mark on Twitter: @markjmill

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