Redskins Trademark Dismissal Could Have Implications For North Dakota's Fighting Sioux Debate


A federal court has ruled that trademarks can’t disparage religious or ethnic groups. Today the US Patent and Trademark Office dismissed the Redskins trademark calling it disparaging to Native Americans (something not even all Native Americans agree on).

The legal fight isn’t over. The Redskins plan to keep fighting, but the case has implications for the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux nickname fight here in North Dakota.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the NCAA has forced the University of North Dakota to retire the Fighting Sioux logo and nickname, and campus activists (including Democrat legislative candidate and student Senate member Kyle Thorson) want it to be against school policy to even express support for the logo/nickname.

But a part of the NCAA’s deal with UND on the nickname states that UND most hold onto the trademark, lest some enterprising entrepreneur start making unofficial Fighting Sioux merchandise. That’s already problematic, because under US law in order to maintain a trademark you have to actually use the trademark. Which means that in order for UND to comply with the NCAA’s mandate that they maintain the rights to the Fighting Sioux logo and nickname they’re going to have to use it once in a while.

How’s that for irony?

But now, if the federal government is successful in their fight against the Redskins, the University of North Dakota may not be able to maintain the trademark at all, unless the university and/or the NCAA want to argue that the logo/nickname aren’t disparaging to Native Americans.

Which would be ironic, wouldn’t it? That the NCAA and UND could end up arguing that the nickname isn’t disparaging in order to maintain a trademark that stops the logo/nickname from being used because it is supposedly disparaging?

But that’s the sort of legal entanglements which are created when an entity like the federal government tries to define for everyone what is and is not offensive.

Maybe the government ought to just stay out of it.

By the way, I’d love to see a group of North Dakota Sioux get use of the Fighting Sioux logo and nickname and then make a killing producing merchandise for UND fans.