It’s not a question of will it happen, it’s a question of when will it happen? My guess is that within the next two years, the Washington Redskins will go by another name. A recent Congressional bill entitled,The Non-Disparagement of American Indians in Trademark Registrations Act was introduced recently that proposes to deem the term, “redskin(s)” a disparaging word that cannot be registered as a trademark in the U.S. The Washington Post and USA Today both report that this bipartisan bill will prevent the future registration of trademarks using the term “redskin(s)” as well as cancel all existing federal trademarks using the term.
The bill seeks to amend the Trademark Act of 1946 or otherwise known as the Lanham Act. Specifically, it seeks to add the term “redskin(s)” to the current disparaging definition. In accordance with the Lanham Act section 2(a), trademarks shall be refused registration if they “disparage…persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute”. Here, the bill will amend the current Act to cancel any registration that includes the disparaging term. Among those that will be canceled are the six registrations currently owned by the Washington NFL team.
This is not the first attempt to cancel the mark, however, this is the one that will succeed. In 1992, Suzan Harjo along with six other Native Americans petitioned the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) to cancel six registrations owned by Pro-Football, Inc. (owner of the Washington Redskins). Harjo lost that case on a defense of laches by Pro-Football. Simply put, the laches defense applies when a party waits too long to file an objection. Here, Pro-Football registered the name in 1967 and the claim was brought in 1992, too long in the court’s opinion. However, this time it’s different.
This bill seeks to retroactively cancel all registrations. In other words, if this bill passes the House and the Senate, goodbye Washington Redskins trademark. This does not mean the NFL team will have to change its name. However, it does mean the trademark is no longer protected under federal law and as a result it will be tougher to defend the name in infringement cases. So will they change their name? You bet they will. Above all, to ensure they don’t offend anyone. Additionally, federally registered trademarks represent a valuable commodity in the NFL. Just imagine all those new product sales.
Goodbye Washington Redskins, Hello Washington………?
Published May 10, 2013 by Brent Sausser.