The US Trademark Office has canceled six federal trademark registrations for the name of the Washington Redskins, ruling that the name is "disparaging to Native Americans" and thus cannot be trademarked under federal law that prohibits the protection of offensive or disparaging language.
"We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered," the board wrote.
"The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with our clients that the team's name and trademarks disparage Native Americans. The Board ruled that the Trademark Office should never have registered these trademarks in the first place," Jesse Witten, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, 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 ‘redskin' is an ethnic slur."
The landmark case was filed on behalf of five Native Americans. It was the second time such a case was filed.
The ruling does not mean that the Redskins have to change the name of the team. 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 T shirts, sweatshirts, beer glasses and license plate holders.
In addition, Native Americans have won at this stage before. But the team and the NFL won an appeal to U.S. District Court. The team is likely to make the same appeal this time.
This battle is far from over, but this is a big first step into potentially forcing the Redskins to change their name.