U.S. Patent Office Cancels Redskins Trademarks For Being ‘Disparaging To Native Americans’

Washington Redskins helmets sit on the field during an NFL football minicamp, Tuesday, June 17, 2014, in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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The United States Patent and Trademark Office has cancelled six of the Washington Redskins’ trademark registrations, because they “were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered.”

The agency ruled Wednesday in a case brought by five Native Americans, who sought cancellation of the team’s trademark registrations, arguing they violated the prohibition on registering “marks that may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute,” as the agency wrote in its 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,” the agency wrote.

In emailed statements, the plaintiffs’ attorneys lauded the ruling as “historic.”

“We are extraordinarily gratified to have prevailed in this case,” attorney Alfred Putnam Jr. said. “The dedication and professionalism of our attorneys and the determination of our clients have resulted in a milestone victory that will serve as an historic precedent.”

Jesse Witten, the plaintiff’s lead attorney, said the ruling was “a long time coming and reflects the hard work of many attorneys at our firm.”

In its ruling, the patent office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board wrote that this was actually the second time it had considered a petition to cancel the Redskins’ trademark registrations. In 1992, seven Native Americans filed a similar complaint with the board — and several years later the board ruled that the trademarks were disparaging. But the team filed an appeal in federal court, and the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. reversed the board’s decision, saying the evidence didn’t support the ruling.

The current case was brought in 2006 by Amanda Blackhorse, Phillip Glover, Marcus Briggs-Cloud, Jillian Pappan, and Courtney Tsotigh. In her own statement, Blackhorse called Wednesday’s ruling a “great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans.”

“We filed our petition eight years ago and it has been a tough battle ever since,” Blackhorse said. “I hope this ruling brings us a step closer to that inevitable day when the name of the Washington football team will be changed. The team’s name is racist and derogatory. I’ve said it before and I will say it again – if people wouldn’t dare call a Native American a ‘redskin’ because they know it is offensive, how can an NFL football team have this name?”

The Redskins said the team planned to appeal the ruling.

“We’ve seen this story before,” Bob Raskopf, the team’s trademark attorney, said in a statement. “And just like 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.”

Read the ruling:

U.S. Patent And Trademark Office’s Redskins Ruling

This post will be updated.

(h/t Think Progress)

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