Today the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board made history when it decided to cancel six Washington Redskin trademarks as disparaging to Native Americans. So what does this mean?
Well for starters, this does not mean the Washington Redskins cannot keep using their name. In the U.S. it is not mandatory that you have a federally registered trademark to have rights to use a name. This decision also does not mean the Washington Redskins cannot appeal the decision. The TTAB has indicated it will not enforce the cancellations until after there has been an opportunity for the owners to appeal the decision. In fact, last time the TTAB tried to cancel the trademarks, a federal judge overturned the decision based on the fact the name was not disparaging at the time of registration.
So what does this TTAB decision mean? Well if successful, cancellation of the Washington Redskins marks means that the league will have a far more difficult time protecting its mark against unauthorized use in court. In other words, it does not mean that the league’s owners cannot successfully protect the mark in court; it just means that it will be more difficult to prove in court that it has rights to the name to the exclusion of others. Ultimately, the famous status of the Washington Redskins mark will probably prevent the unauthorized use of the mark by others without legitimate threats of litigation from the league’s owners. Thus, it is not advisable to start using the mark without a valid license from the Washington Redskins unless you want a lawsuit on your hands.
At the end of the day, the future of the Washington Redskins name is uncertain. Although this decision does not prevent use by the league of the name at this time, it does lead the way for future court decisions and/or laws that could force the league to change its name. You also have to consider from a marketing standpoint that the negative press might also push the team to have no choice to change the name.
Finally, this decision should not undermine the importance of a trademark to a business. Although the Washington Redskins can still continue use of their name, enforcement of its rights to the name will be an up-hill battle. Ownership of federally registered trademarks is immensely important to a company and the decision to cancel these six trademarks is no doubt a huge blow to the future of the league’s name.
Curious to see more legal analysis on the Washington Redskin trademark issue? Visit our past blog post The New Name of the Washington Redskins NFL Team.
For more information about trademarks, or if you need help with a trademark, please visit our website at www.OnlineTrademarkAttorneys.com.