Washington Redskins Lose REDSKINS Trademark Registrations

A divided panel of the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board ("TTAB") of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has cancelled six trademark registrations owned by Pro Football, Inc., for REDSKINS, THE REDSKINS, and WASHINGTON REDSKINS.In a 2-1 decision released today, the TTAB ruled that the "these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered, in violation of Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. 1052(a)."

The cancellation proceeding was brought by five Native Americans, all of whom testified that the term "redskins" is disparaging. In an opinion spanning over 175 pages, the TTAB determined that the term REDSKINS, as it is used in connection with the REDSKINS FOOTBALL team, has been disparaging to a "substantial composite of Native Americans" since the late 1960s. The TTAB denied the registrant's laches defense stating "[i]t is difficult to justify the balancing of the equities where a registrant's financial interest is weighed against human dignity." The panel reviewed a massive record of documentary and testimonial evidence, including sources such as dictionary entries, news articles and the testimony of linguistic experts. The dissenting judge felt that the petitioners still had not met their evidentiary burden of showing that the marks were disparaging at the time they were registered.

The TTAB decision has no impact on the team's use of REDSKINS as a team name, because the TTAB has jurisdiction to determine only whether a trademark is registerable. The cancellation of these registrations will not take effect until after the disposition of any appeal by Pro Football, which appears likely.

The TTAB's decision is here.

Authors: Kristen McCallion, Robert M. O’Connell, Jr.