The board ruled 2-1 the NFL team's name violates a law that prohibits registration of trademarks that may "disparage persons or bring them into contempt or dispute."
"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 ruling says.
The team said it would appeal the decision and will retain its federal trademark rights during the appeal process. It can continue to use the name, even if it loses appeal, but without the trademark protection that prevents unrelated entities from using team logos with impunity. It can also try to use state or common law to protect its trademarks.
The lawsuit was first filed in 1992 by Suzan Shown Harjo, and the TTAB canceled the Redskins' trademarks for the first time in 1999, but the team got the decision reversed on appeal in 2003, in Harjo v. Pro Football Inc.
A second suit, with Harjo and Amanda Blackhorse was filed in 2006, which the Supreme Court declined to hear in 2009. Blackhorse v. Pro Football Inc. arrived before the TTAB in March 2013.
The canceled trademarks are:
- Registration No. 0836122 for the stylized mark "The Redskins" for "entertainment services -- namely, football exhibitions registered in stadia and through the media of radio and television broadcasts;"
- Registration No. 0978824 for the typed drawing mark "Washington Redskins" for "entertainment services -- namely presentations of professional football contests;"
- Registration No. 0986668 for the mark and design "Washington Redskins" for "entertainment services -- namely, presentations of professional football contests;"
- Registration No. 0987127 for the mark and design "The Redskins" for "entertainment services -- namely, presentations of professional football contests;"
- Registration No. 1085092 for the typed drawing mark "Redskins" for "entertainment services -- namely, presentations of professional football contests;" and
- Registration No. 1606810 for the typed drawing "Redskinetts" for "entertainment services, namely, cheerleaders who perform dance routines at professional football games and exhibitions and other personal appearances."
The Redskins released a statement from trademark attorney Bob Raskopf, expressing confidence the decision would be reversed, as it was in 2003.
We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board's divided ruling will be overturned on appeal. This case is no different than an earlier case, where the Board cancelled the Redskins' trademark registrations, and where a federal district court disagreed and reversed the Board.
As today's dissenting opinion correctly states, "the same evidence previously found insufficient to support cancellation" here "remains insufficient" and does not support cancellation.
This ruling -- which of course we will appeal -- simply addresses the team's federal trademark registrations, and the team will continue to own and be able to protect its marks without the registrations. The registrations will remain effective while the case is on appeal.
When the case first arose more than 20 years ago, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled on appeal in favor of the Washington Redskins and their trademark registrations.
As the district court's ruling made clear in 2003, the evidence 'is insufficient to conclude that during the relevant time periods the trademark at issue disparaged Native Americans...' The court continued, 'The Court concludes that the [Board's] finding that the marks at issue 'may disparage' Native Americans is unsupported by substantial evidence, is logically flawed, and fails to apply the correct legal standard to its own findings of fact.' Those aren't my words. That was the court's conclusion. We are confident that when a district court review's today's split decision, it will reach a similar conclusion.
In today's ruling, the Board's Marc Bergsman agreed, concluding in his dissenting opinion:
"It is astounding that the petitioners did not submit any evidence regarding the Native American population during the relevant time frame, nor did they introduce any evidence or argument as to what comprises a substantial composite of that population thereby leaving it to the majority to make petitioner's case have some semblance of meaning."
The evidence in the current claim is virtually identical to the evidence a federal judge decided was insufficient more than ten years ago. We expect the same ultimate outcome here.