Redskins will appeal Patent Office decision

Rob Carr

The Redskins will fight back against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's decision to cancel registrations on the team's name. The team hopes to win appeal, just as it did in 2003 when the U.S. PTO reached a similar ruling in 1999.

The Washington Redskins will appeal the ruling handed down by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Wednesday canceling the registrations for protection of the team's name. The team issued a statement through attorney Bob Raskopf, who said "we are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board's divided ruling will be overturned on appeal."

Raskopf's confidence is based on a 2003 decision by a by a federal judge to overturn a 1999 ruling by the U.S. PTO that stripped the Redskins of their trademark. The judge ruled, then, that "the [Board's] finding that the marks at issue ‘may disparage' Native Americans is unsupported by substantial evidence, is logically flawed and fails to apply the correct legal standard to its own findings of fact."

The plaintiffs behind the 2014 ruling are reportedly confident that they have substantial evidence, however. The litigation team behind Amanda Blackhorse's complaint used "dictionary definitions and other reference works, newspaper clippings, movie clips, scholarly articles, expert linguist testimony and evidence of the historic opposition by Native American groups" in its case. A few of those movie clips can be seen here.

As Vox points out, the 1999 ruling (which was based on a case filed in 1992) was also hamstrung by a legal technicality that does not apply to the 2014 ruling.

An additional problem was that the trademark had been in place for decades, and the plaintiffs had waited to file, allowing the team to invoke the legal concept of laches - basically, the idea that the Native Americans had taken too long to challenge the name, and had thereby waived their rights.

In 2006, a new group of seven plantiffs led by Navajo Amanda Blackhorse filed a similar suit. Their ages ranged from 18 to 24 at the time of filing - eliminating the team's laches defense - and they presented significantly more evidence (in the form of academic articles, linguist testimony, film clips, newspaper clippings, and other media) that the team name is an ethnic slur.

The appeal process could drag on if the previous ruling is any indication. A federal court took four years to overturn the 1999 ruling, a period in which "Redskins" remained protected by federal law.

It's not yet clear whether the U.S. PTO's most recent decision will hold. If the ruling sticks, the Redskins will no longer have ownership of their name, which will be free to be used by anyone, essentially, to manufacture third-party merchandise or for other commercial uses. The loss of revenue would likely prompt the team to change its name.

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