City Desk

The Washington Football Team Loses Its Trademark

The United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Washington football team's trademark registration because it's "disparaging to Native Americans," delivering another blow to Dan Snyder's efforts to defend his team's name.

The case appeared before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board and was filed in 2006 on behalf of five Native Americans. The 177-page opinion of the board was issued today.

Today's decision far from renders the team's name unusable and, judging by one precedent, the franchise will likely appeal the ruling. This is the second time the trademark office has received such a petition. In 1992, a group of Native Americans filed a petition about the team's name and the trademark office issued the same ruling to cancel the trademark. But the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ultimately reversed the decision on the basis that there was not enough evidence to support the actual disparagement of Native Americans. That appeal was challenged by the petitioners, but the case never resolved.

Documents from the 1992 case filed was included as evidence in the more recent filing, according to the board's decision.

"The Board ruled that the Trademark Office should never have registered these trademarks in the first place," Jesse Witten, the lead partner litigating the case from Dinker Biddle, the law firm that filed the case on behalf of the Native American, said in a press release. “We presented a wide variety of evidence – including dictionary definitions and other reference works, newspaper clippings, movie clips, scholarly articles, expert linguist testimony, and evidence of the historic opposition by Native American groups – to demonstrate that the word ‘[pigskin]’ is an ethnic slur.”

The ruling, however, wasn't a unanimous decision by the three trademark judges presiding over the case.  One of the judges, Marc Bergsman, issued a dissent saying the evidence provided to prove that the name was disparaging was inconclusive.

 "To be clear, this case is not about the controversy, currently playing out in the media, over whether the term '[pigskins,]' as the name of Washington’s professional football team, is disparaging to Native Americans today," Bergsman wrote. "The provisions of the statute under which the Board must decide this case...require us to answer a much narrower, legal question: whether the evidence made of record in this case establishes that the term '[pigskins]' was disparaging to a substantial composite of cancellation of Native Americans at the time each of the challenged registrations issued."

Today's ruling applies to six different trademarks the team holds.

What's you next move, Snyder?

Read the opinion in its entirety below:

Illustration by Carey Jordan

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