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Politically Correct Censorship: Washington Redskins Logo ’Disparaging’
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Politically Correct Censorship: Washington Redskins Logo ’Disparaging’

By Henrik Palmgren |
Federal bureaucracy will now judge patents on politically correct criteria...

Washington Redskins trademark canceled by U.S. Patent Office
By Sam Farmer | Chicago Tribune

The Redskins once wore a circled R on their helmets.

Now, they could become the first NFL team without a circled R — as in registered trademark — on their logo.

The push to convince the Redskins to change their nickname entered a new phase Wednesday, as the federal government officially stepped into the fight.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled the trademark registration of the Redskins, calling the nickname “disparaging to Native Americans.” Federal trademark law prohibits names or logos that “may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute.”

The case, which appeared before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, was filed on behalf of five Native Americans and marks the latest chapter in a decades-long attempt to persuade the NFL franchise to change its name. The 2-1 decision comes amid mounting political and financial pressure to make a change.

However, the ruling does not require the Redskins to change their name, only limits their legal options when other people or entities engage in unauthrorized use of the Redskins name or marks.

Even without federal registrations, the Redskins still have common-law trademark protection but are not afforded all the protections of federal law, which include the potential to recover actual damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and injunctions. The remedies are not as clear under common law.

Jesse Witten, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, applauded the decision but said it likely will take more to convince Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.

“We don’t think trademark litigation will be what persuades this team to change its name,” said Witten, of Drinker Biddle & Reath. “It will be the view of broader society that the name needs to change… But this is an important decision by the U.S. government that it should play no part in promoting this team’s ethnic slur.”

This is not the first time the Redskins have encountered this setback. Native Americans prevailed in a similar ruling in 1999, only to see that decision thrown out when the team and the NFL won an appeal in U.S. District Court in 2009. The court ruled the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to file the lawsuit because they waited too long to complain. A federal court of appeals upheld that decision.

“We’ve seen this story before,” Bob Raskopf, trademark attorney for the Redskins, said in a written statement Wednesday. “And just like the last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo.”


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