SBD/June 18, 2014/Franchises

Redskins Lose Trademark Protection Over Nickname As Patent Office Calls It "Disparaging"

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office this morning canceled the Redskins' trademark registration, "calling the football team’s name 'disparaging to Native Americans,'" according to Theresa Vargas of the WASHINGTON POST. The case, which "appeared before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, was filed on behalf of five Native Americans." The ruling "pertains to six different trademarks associated with the team, each containing the word 'Redskin.'" The ruling "does not mean that the Redskins have to change the name of the team," but it "does affect whether the team and the NFL can make money from merchandising because it limits the team’s legal options when others use the logos and the name" on merchandise. Native Americans in '99 "won at this stage before," but the team and the NFL "won an appeal to U.S. District Court" in '09. The court at that time "did not rule on the merits of the case, however, but threw it out, saying that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to file it." The team "is likely to make the same appeal this time" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 6/18). The ruling stipulates that the team "does not have to act" on it until the appeals process "is exhausted" (WASHINGTONTIMES.com, 6/18). USA TODAY's Erik Brady notes even if the club "loses on appeal, it can continue to use the name, as it has for more than 80 years." Owners of unregistered marks can "try to protect them through state statutes or common law" even without trademark protection (USATODAY.com, 6/18). ESPN's Roger Cossack noted the appeals process "could take a significantly long period of time." Cossack: "This kind of litigation is fraught with technicalities. This is stuff that is handled by statute. When you're talking about protecting someone's property who went ahead and trademarked it a number of years ago and now a court comes … (stating) that trademark should have never been granted because it's disparaging to Native Americans, you can see the problems in terms of appeals and litigation" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 6/18).

A LEAGUE ISSUE NOW: ESPN's Darren Rovell noted this is "probably the most substantive thing that has come along" regarding the name controversy. Rovell: "It's not a Native American group coming out with ads, it's not senators saying that they want a hearing or they want the name changed -- this is business." Rovell noted the ruling impacts not only the Redskins, but also the NFL, so this "can't really be now about Daniel Snyder and his will to not change the name." Rovell: "That could significantly put more pressure on Daniel Snyder. It's not just about him" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 6/18). ESPN's Skip Bayless said if the Redskins "start losing money from losing their trademarks, then everybody, the other 30 teams that share revenue, will lose money." The Cowboys have a separate licensing deal. Bayless: "All of the sudden, we put this in a whole different perspective because the NFL as a group will lose money because of what’s happening with the nickname.” ESPN's Stephen A. Smith: "When you have lawmakers on Capitol Hill and you have the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office now essentially officially against them, it’s the beginning steps of an ultimate change in the Redskins name” (“First Take,” ESPN, 6/18).

COULD NEW NAME RESULT IN NEW REVENUE? Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio said should the Redskins change their name, a potential new revenue stream could present itself, but it "all depends on how your fan base reacts to it." Florio: "You may have a bunch of fans who never buy anything with the new name and continue to keep their old jerseys and continue to refer to the team with the old name. Who knows which way this is going to go. Maybe folks will start hoarding Redskins gear now because they think the name is going to change, so they'll see an increase in revenue. Or maybe people will stop buying it because they think there's going to be a new name soon” (“The Dan Patrick Show,” 6/18).
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