US Patent Office Rules Redskins Name Is Offensive, Cancels Trademarks

The US Patents and Trademarks Office cancelled the federal trademarks for the Washington Redskins after ruling that the name was “disparaging to Native Americans.”

Five Native Americans petitioned the office to cancel six trademarks filed between 1967 and 1990. Under federal law, trademarks cannot be “may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute” cannot be registered.

The office said in a ruling:

“We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered, in violation of Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a).”

The entire ruling can be read here. It includes a lengthy discussion, with expert opinions from lexicographers, about the historical origins of the words and its use as an offensive term over the past century.

The key part of the ruling says that 30% of Native Americans find the name disparaging. The committee describes this as a “substantial composite” of Native Americans, which establishes that the name is offensive:

“The record establishes that, at a minimum, approximately thirty per cent of Native Americans found the term REDSKINS used in connection with respondent’s services to be disparaging at all times including 1967, 1972, 1974, 1978 and 1990. Section 2(a) prohibits registration of matter that disparages a substantial composite, which need not be a majority, of the referenced group. Thirty per cent is without doubt a substantial composite. To determine otherwise means it is acceptable to subject to disparagement 1 out of every 3 individuals, or as in this case approximately 626,095 out of 1,878,285 in 1990. >There is nothing in the Trademark Act, which expressly prohibits registration of disparaging terms, or in its legislative history, to permit that level of disparagement of a group and, therefore, we find this showing of thirty per cent to be more than substantial.

“Respondent has introduced evidence that some in the Native American community do not find the term “Redskin” disparaging when it is used in connection with professional football. While this may reveal differing opinions within the community, it does not negate the opinions of those who find it disparaging. The ultimate decision is based on whether the evidence shows that a substantial composite of the Native American population found the term “Redskins” to be disparaging when the respective registrations issued. Therefore, once a substantial composite has been found, the mere existence of differing opinions cannot change the conclusion.

“In view of the above, petitioners have shown by a preponderance of the evidence that a substantial composite of Native Americans found the term REDSKINS to be disparaging in connection with respondent’s services during the relevant time frame of 1967-1990. Accordingly, the six registrations must be cancelled as required under Sections 2(a) and 14(3) of the Trademark Act. 216.”

A similar ruling was made in 1992, according to the office, but the decision was later reversed.

The cancelled six trademarks all involve the “REDSKINS” name: marks on “THE REDSKINS,” “WASHINGTON REDSKINS,” “REDSKINS,” AND “REDSKINETTES” were all cancelled. Two old logos, both with “Redskins” in them, were also cancelled:

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