Federal Court Cancels Washington D.C. NFL Team’s Disparaging Trademarks

Things on the field have been pretty bad for Washington D.C.’s NFL team the past few years. Things off the field have been worse. In June 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) ruled that six federal registrations for the “Redskins” trademarks must be cancelled after finding that the term was disparaging of Native Americans. Today, the team’s losing streak continued as a federal court judge affirmed that ruling. This is a huge victory for those opposed to the trademarks. Here’s why.

Similar to last year, in 1999, the TTAB cancelled the “Redskins” trademarks. But unlike what happened today, when D.C.’s NFL team appealed to federal court in ’99, it was able to obtain a reversal of the TTAB’s decision, preserving the trademarks. No such luck this time, although D.C.’s NFL team can still appeal the ruling to a higher federal court.

No matter what happens next, D.C.’s NFL team will not be required by the ruling to change its name. To the extent the team chooses not to appeal, or the decision is upheld on appeal, the team will simply lose the legal benefits conferred by a federal registration, which include:

  • the legal presumptions of ownership and of a nationwide scope of rights in the trademark;
  • the ability to use the federal registration ® symbol; and
  • the ability to record the registrations with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Service so as to block the importation of infringing or counterfeit foreign goods.

Nonetheless, pressure to change the team’s name is not going anywhere. Check out John Oliver’s take on the issue. It is well worth the click: