Patent Office Nixes Redskins Trademarks: 5 Key Questions Tackled

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on June 18, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The United States Patent and Trademark Office made big news today when it issued an order canceling six trademarks held by the Washington Redskins.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruling is just latest twist in the ongoing, multi-decade push by Native American groups and their allies to get the team to change a name that they consider offensive.

So what does this ruling really mean for the Redskins? Let's tackle five key questions about today's Patent Office decision:

  1. Who brought the challenge? The petitioners in this case were five Native Americans. They each claimed standing in the case -- which requires that a plaintiff has a real and legitimate personal interest in the outcome -- by finding the term "Redskin" to be disparaging or offensive.
  2. Which six trademarks were cancelled? Though the order effects six different trademarks, all six of the trademarks are iterations of the Redskins team name and/or logo, encompassing different types of logo renderings -- typed or stylized writing with different images -- as well as different purposes, including of course "presentations of professional football contests."
  3. What does the cancellation mean? The USPTO's cancellation of the trademarks means that the Redskins will no longer be able to enforce trademark protections against manufacturers of unlicensed merchandise and apparel or other commercial users of the team's name and logo.
  4. Can the team appeal? The team can and, according to The Washington Post, is already planning to appeal the TTAB ruling. It should be noted that a previous TTAB ruling canceling the team's trademarks was later reversed on appeal.
  5. Does this mean the Redskins have to change their name? The ruling has no effect on the team's use of the Redskins name, only on its ability to enforce the protections provided by the Trademark Act. However, groups who oppose the team's use of the name hope the potential financial losses associated with losing trademark protection may compel the team to change its name.

The team's trademarks will remain effective while the appeal is pending, so any potential name change is not likely to happen any time soon.

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