Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Washington Redskins Trademarks Are Out of Bounds

          The federal government has cancelled six registered trademarks of the NFL team, the Washington Redskins. The cancelled marks include THE REDSKINS, WASHINGTON REDSKINS, REDSKINETTES, as well as various stylized logos.
Five Native Americans brought suit with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the Redskins’s trademarks that were registered between 1967 and 1990 which used the term “REDSKINS” to identify football-related services. In a recent ruling, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board cancelled the Washington Redskins’ trademark registrations and held that the “Redskins” name was disparaging to a substantial group of Native Americans at the time of registration and violated United States Trademark law, (15 U.S.C. §1052), which prohibits the federal protection of names that may disparage or bring into disrepute individuals or groups.

            The ruling will not require the Washington Redskins to change its team name, but it will limit the ways that the team can use the legal system to prevent others from using the Redskins trademarks. There are significant advantages associated with federal trademark registration. For example, federal trademark registration enables trademark owners to obtain exclusive rights to use their trademarks nationwide on or in connection with goods and services listed in their registrations and allows owners to recover actual damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and injunctions if they prevail in trademark infringement litigation. Nevertheless, the Washington Redskins’s trademarks are still eligible for common law trademark protection, which means that the team may still use its trademarks in commerce and prevent others from using its marks for monetary gain without authorization.

            The Washington Redskins plan to appeal the ruling, and during the appeal process, the team is entitled to federal protection of its trademarks. Although the impact of the cancellation of the trademark registrations is still unclear, the individuals who filed the lawsuit may still claim this as a victory as one of the purposes of the suit was to draw attention to the use of the term “Redskins” in an attempt to persuade management to change the team’s name.

            The lawyers of Brown, Paindiris & Scott can help you to protect your intellectual property, register your trademarks, and defend against claims of infringement. For more information, visit our website or contact Attorney Regina von Gootkin.