Washington, D.C.’s, delegate to Congress claimed victory today in her fight to force the Washington Redskins to change their name, calling the ruling canceling the team’s trademark both “historic” and “inevitable.”
This is the second time the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Trademark Trial and Appeal Board has issued such a ruling, though the first was overturned by the courts on procedural grounds.
“The handwriting was almost indelibly on the wall that this historic decision was close to inevitable if the USPTO followed its own precedents,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said in a statement. “The USPTO’s first decision finding the name ‘disparaging’ was not overturned on the merits but on a technicality, and on four separate occasions since then, the USPTO has turned down attempts to register the same name.”
“As if that were not enough, a grassroots movement led by Native people themselves and organizations that represent them has spread with allies of every background and members of the House and Senate. Team owner Daniel Snyder instead tried to turn the name on its head, but there was no way to put a positive cover on a name with racist origins,” she continued.
Washington Redskins manager Bruce Allen responded to recent Senate criticism of the team’s name with a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) late last month, stressing that the team’s logo was designed by Native American leaders in 1971.
Allen added that they’ve visited reservations in more than 20 states and were “warmly received” by tribal leaders “on every occasion.”
Norton said that since NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell failed “to exercise the needed leadership” it “guaranteed that it would take the law to force a change.”
“We in the District of Columbia are particularly relieved about the ruling, which upholds values of the people of the District of Columbia. Goodell still has an opportunity to exercise some leadership. He, the other NFL team owners and FedEx should urge Snyder not to appeal this ruling. It is time for the team and the NFL to put this issue to rest.”
The Redskins have already vowed to appeal.
American Samoa Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D) introduced a bill last year to cancel existing trademark registrations containing the term “Redskins,” and deny registration for new trademarks using the term.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters today that he hadn’t spoken with President Obama about the news.
“But I would note that last October in an interview with the Associated Press, he was asked about the issue of the team name and said, quote, ‘If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team, even if it had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.’,” Carney said.
“It’s an independent administrative tribunal within the Patent and Trademark Office. The board is authorized to determine a party’s right to register a trademark with the federal government or if the party already owns a registration, its right to maintain it. The board is not authorized to determine whether a party has the right to use a trademark, just whether it has the right to register it.”
The Patent Office stressed that their decision can be reviewed by a federal court and registrations will not be affected until court action is done.
“The petitioners met their burden to establish that the term ‘Redskins’ was disparaging of Native Americans, when used in relation to professional football services, at the times the various registrations involved in the cancellation proceeding were issued,” the office said in a statement about the 177-page ruling.
“The decision to cancel the registrations means that, if not appealed or if affirmed following a possible review by a federal court, the trademark owner (Pro Football, Inc.) will lose the legal benefits conferred by federal registration. These benefits include the legal presumptions of ownership and of nationwide scope of rights in these trademarks, as well as the ability to use the federal registration ® symbol, and to record the registrations with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Service to block importation of infringing or counterfeit foreign goods. The decision does not, however, require the trademarks in the involved registrations to be changed or no longer be used by Washington, D.C.’s pro football team. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board does not have jurisdiction in a cancellation proceeding to require that a party cease use of a mark, but only to determine whether a mark may continue to be registered.”