Trademark Board Hears Challenge To ‘Redskins’ Team Name

A group of Native Americans says the NFL’s Washington Redskins should not be allowed to trademark the team name, which they say is offensive. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, part of the U.S. Patent Office, heard the case Thursday.

The five plaintiffs must now prove that “the name ‘Washington Redskins’ was disparaging to a significant population of American Indians back when the team was granted the trademarks from 1967 to 1990,” according to an AP report on ESPN’s site.

The case was organized by Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the advocacy group the Morning Star Institute, on behalf of young Native Americans. The plaintiffs’ ages are important because in 2003, the trademark board overturned a ruling that stripped the Washington team of the Redskins trademark, in part because the plaintiffs had waited too long after coming of age to file their complaint.

Last month, Harjo told the audience at a symposium that “two-thirds of team names with Native references have been changed since 1970, with less than 1,000 remaining,” as NPR’s Kat Chow reported.

The Washington Redskins have maintained that the name is not meant to be offensive. But the AP reports that Judge Peter Cataldo, a member of the Trademark panel, said Thursday that “the team could have called itself the ‘Washington N-word’ with nothing but honorable intentions and still be subject to scrutiny.”

CBS DC, which spoke with Harjo about the Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc. case, explains her strategy:

“The motive is to force Redskins owner Dan Snyder into a change by weakening him financially. Redskins lawyer Robert Raskopf said during the previous case that the team would suffer ‘every imaginable loss you can think of’ if it no longer had the exclusive marketing rights to its name.”

It’s unclear when the board will rule on the case, but most observers believe it could be months before the findings are announced.

An earlier story by The Washington Post suggests that the board’s ruling may have only a limited effect, “because trademark officials do not have the authority to halt the sale of goods containing Redskins images or logos, nor can they order the team to pay damages to the petitioners.”

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