Fed. Judge Orders Redskins Trademark Registrations Cancelled

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 08, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Redskins owner Dan Snyder claims, "I will never change the name." Well, he may want to consider doing it now.

A federal judge ruled against the team today when he ordered that the Redskins' trademark registrations be canceled.

Washington Redskins Name Dispute

The Washington Redskins, an NFL football team, had its name since 1933. The team has six different trademarks on the name.

As far back as 1972, the team has been under fire for using the name. Many call the name a slur on Native Americans. Despite pressure from the media, Native American groups, and even members of the United States Senate, Redskins owner Dan Snyder repeatedly refused to change the team's name.

In 1992, a group of Native Americans led by Susan Harjo filed a petition to cancel the Redskins' trademark registrations. While the TTAB ruled that the trademarks violated Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act because it "may disparage" Native Americans, the decision was overturned on appeal.

Amanda Blackhorse's War

In 2006, a prominent opponent of the Redskin name, Amanda Blackhorse, filed a similar suit against the team with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) to rescind the team's trademark of the name.

This time, the TTAB again decided that the trademarks violated the Lanham Act and were improperly registered. So, the United States Patent and Trademark Office cancelled six of the team's federal trademark registrations.

The Appeal

The Redskins filed suit to appeal the USPTO's cancellation of its trademark registrations. The team claimed that Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act is void because of vagueness and violated the team's First Amendment rights. The team also claims that the TTAB's order to cancel the registrations was a violation of the Due Process Clause and the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

In his opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee upheld the TTAB's order. He declared that the team's First Amendment rights weren't violated because trademark registrations are government speech exempt from free speech scrutiny.

The judge also pointed out that the ruling doesn't require the team to change its name. The only effect is that the team's name no longer has federal trademark protection.

While Blackhorse and her team may be thrilled with this decision, the cancellation of the trademarks will not go into effect until the team has exhausted its appeals. Without a doubt, the Redskins will appeal this decision.

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