The USPTO today canceled 6 federal trademark registrations containing the term “Redskins” based on a ruling by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board that the term Redskins is (and was at the time of registration) disparaging to Native Americans. The ruling was the result of a claim filed 8 years ago by plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse, a Native American of the Navajo tribe.
The Washington football team plans on appealing the ruling and will be able to keep its trademark protection during the appeals process. If they lose the appeal, they will lose federal trademark protection. However, even if the team loses their federal trademark protection, they will still be able to use the name, be known as the Washington Redskins, and sell merchandise with the brand name. They will also continue to enjoy common law rights to their name, which means that others cannot start selling merchandise with the Redskins name and logo without the team’s permission simply because they lost their registrations. In other words, despite the team’s assertions (as part of its original defense in a related 1999 case that was thrown out on a technicality) that loss of its trademark registrations would devastate the team, it is quite possible that it would not have much, if any, legal impact. The affect on player and fan morale, on the other hand, could be another story.