In a landmark case, the U.S. Patent Office has cancelled several trademarks related to the use of the name “Redskins” by the Washington D.C.-based NFL franchise.
While this is certainly a public relations blow to the franchise and its owner, Daniel Snyder, there will not be any direct impact on the team and they will likely continue to go on using the name deemed offensive by many.
There are three important points to be taken from the U.S. Patent Office’s ruling.
The Washington Redskins can continue to use their name
Just because the Redskins no longer have a trademark on their name does not mean they can’t use the name.
“You do not need to have a federal trademark registration to use a name,” said trademark attorney Josh Gerben. “The Washington Redskins could still play football and sell merchandise using the trademark.”
The ruling does not impact the use of the team’s logo
This is the most important issue.
The U.S. Patent Office only stripped the trademarks involving the word “Redskins.” The ruling has no impact on the team’s current logo.
They did strip the trademark on one logo no longer used by the team, but only because the word “Redskins” was incorporated into that logo.
If people were permitted to start selling merchandise with the team’s logo, that would potentially be a financial blow to the NFL and the other owners. However, this ruling does not open the door to use of the logo.
The team can still sue anybody that uses the name without permission.
Gerben noted that it “would not be open season for anybody wanting to sell Washington Redskins merchandise,” adding that “there are federal and state laws that would still allow the Washington Redskins to police their trademark and to sue others for trademark infringement.”
Susan Weller, a Washington D.C. trademark attorney makes the same point comparing the Redskins case to one where The U.S. Patent Office refused to trademark the name “The Slants” used by a rock band consisting of Asian-Americans.
“It is important to note that the Board only has the authority to prevent federal registration of a trademark,” said Weller, noting that the band still had “common-law rights” to the name. “This is also true for the Washington Redskins marks…which have been in use for a very long time [and] will continue to benefit from substantial common-law trademark rights developed over decades of use.”
A small victory for Native Americans
The dropping of the trademarks is still a victory and an important first step for Native Americans wishing to have the team change its name.
This move may not force the team to act, but it does keep the story up front and forces the league and the team to continue to react to the public relations backlash. But the big blow will only come when something happens that will impact the team and the league financially and this ruling is unlikely to do that.
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