From the official ruling:
“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”
“This decision concerns only the statutory right to registration under Section 2(a). We lack statutory authority to issue rulings concerning the right to use trademarks.”
Basically because the term “redskins” was considered offensive when the team officially registered the trademark back in 1966 it’s no longer allowed to be trademarked by the USPTO. The Redskins can keep using the name but they no longer have the luxury of trademark protection.
Why should the Redskins care? Well, bootleg Washington Redskins merchandise suddenly becomes a lot tougher to stop when nobody owns the name.
The team has released a statement saying the ruling “will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name/logo”. They’re correct, but it does also allow others to use the name as they wish… they just can’t trademark it either.
It should be noted that the logo was not the subject of this cancellation and the team should retain their respective logo-only trademarks.
This isn’t the first time the Redskins have lost trademark protection for their name, this happened in 1999. The Redskins appealed and in 2003 the decision was reversed because the “finding of disparagement is not supported by substantial evidence”. It was also alleged that those who complained simply waited too long to and they should have done so back in the 1960s… because, as we all know, those who publicly stood up to racism in that decade had no reason to fear any violent response, just ask Martin Luther King, Jr.
Three years after the original decision was reversed a younger group of Natives made a formal protest of the trademark plugging up that “you shoulda done it sooner” loophole with the fact they were not yet alive at the time of the original filing. Tricky. This 2006 protest is what resulted in the news we’re hearing today.
The Redskins lose six trademark filings in all and are surely preparing to file an appeal. During the appeal process the team retains their trademark protections, so don’t start printing those bumper stickers just yet.
We’re likely still a ways away from the issue being resolved, assuming the Redskins appeal, as we noted earlier the appeal process took four years the last time this happened. It’s entirely possible the league steps in and forces the team to change as I’m sure the NFL would like all of its teams to have trademarked brands but, again, we’re probably stuck waiting another four years.
The Washington Redskins inherited their controversial name from Boston where the franchise began (and likely patterned their name off of the Boston Braves baseball team). The franchise has had the Redskins name since 1932, they moved from Boston to Washington in 1937.