Apr 27, 2016

Washington Redskins on the Offensive in Trademark Dispute

National Football League club the Washington Redskins have filed an application in the Supreme Court of the United States asking the Supreme Court to hear the club's high-profile trade mark dispute, even though an appeal court has yet to rule on the issue.

Background

The dispute dates back to 1992 when a group of Native Americans challenged Redskins' registrations for trademarks, which were granted between 1967 and 1990. A 'redskin' is generally understood to be an offensive term for a Native American therefore the dispute is deeply important to many Native American groups.  Such groups have fought for decades for the revocation of federal protection of the "Redskins" trademark and further to force the team to change the name altogether.

Current

The present case dates back to 2014 when the Trade Trial and Appeals Board (TTAB) of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) cancelled six trademarks owned by the club, one of which included the term 'Redskins'.

Following the decision by the TTAB, the Washington Redskins appealed the decision in the US District Court, but the court rejected its argument and agreed the marks should be cancelled.

The team's parent company, Pro-Football Inc., confirmed that it has filed for a 'writ of certiorari' (in essence, judicial review) seeking a review of their appeal of a federal judge's ruling which upheld the cancellation of their mark.

It is also asking the Supreme Court whether a provision in the Lanham Act which prevents offensive or disparaging trade marks from being registered violates its First Amendment Rights, which essentially promote freedom of speech.

Case of In Re Tam and Registration of 'The Slants'

The Washington Redskins' application to the Supreme Court comes days after the same court received a petition from the USPTO to hear another dispute involving offensive or disparaging trade marks and attempts to register those marks.  In this case (In Re Tam), US rock-band 'The Slants' successfully convinced the US Court of Appeal to overturn a TTAB decision that originally rejected its trade mark application for 'The Slants'.

The term 'slant' is an offensive term used to describe someone of Asian heritage. The Federal Circuit accepted that denying the band a trade mark would violate its First Amendment rights, prompting the USPTO to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

In the application to the Supreme Court, the Washington Redskins have asked for their case to be heard if In Re Tam is. The Redskins' petition read,

"If this court nonetheless grants review in Tam, the court also should grant this petition to consider this case as an essential and invaluable complement to Tam."

Posted by: in: Case Law, EU/International, News, Trade Marks

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