The federal government has canceled the trademark for the Washington Redskins football team, acting on a complaint filed by a group of Native Americans.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the Washington Redskins trademark registration, calling the football team’s name “disparaging to Native Americans.”
The landmark case, which appeared before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, was filed on behalf of five Native Americans. It was the second time such a case was filed.
“This victory was a long time coming and reflects the hard work of many attorneys at our firm,” said lead attorney Jesse Witten, of Drinker Biddle & Reath.
Personally, I think it’s perfectly understandable that many would see the “Redskins” nickname as disparaging. There’s no question that the term “redskin” is used as a pejorative for Native Americans.
And current federal law makes it illegal for a trademark to “disparage” an individual or group of people and “bring them into contempt or disrepute.”
That being said, I know a lot of Native Americans (including many who support the Fighting Sioux nickname here in North Dakota) who like the Redskins name. Which brings us to the problem of the federal government acting to determine what is and is not offensive or disparaging.
There is disagreement, even among Native Americans, as to the offensiveness of the Redskins nickname. And what of other sort of trademarks? What if I wanted to trademark a team name like, say, “Obama Voters Are Stupid?” That’s certainly disparaging to Obama voters, but isn’t there a degree of 1st amendment protection?
When did people taking umbrage, when did personal outrage, trump the 1st amendment?
Here’s the ruling: