The Trademark Office has canceled the Washington Redskins trademark registration, calling the football team’s name “disparaging to Native Americans.”
The case was filed by 5 Native Americans in the Trademark Office itself. The case was not filed in Court; however, my understanding is that the Redskin’s will appeal to Federal Court.
Federal trademark law does not permit registration of trademarks that “may disparage” individuals or groups or “bring them into contempt or disrepute.”
My take: I think this case demonstrates that we should consider doing away with the the policy that allows trademark to be cancelled on this basis. The Trademark Office (or even the Courts) are not in a good position to make a deep cultural decision like this. Why not leave a decision like this up to the market? If people are offended by a trademark, they should be less likely to do business with the owner. Besides cancelling the trademark just means that anyone could now use the Redskins name, logo, etc. It does not force the team to change its name.
I don’t believe the Redskins, NFL, and fans consider the Redskins name to be offensive to Native Americans. On the contrary, I think the name honor’s Native American heritage. I recognize that some Native Americans certainly do feel that the name is offensive. If enough of them feel this way, the team should make a name change; I merely object to this being a matter for the Trademark Office and Courts to decide.
Some other sports teams with names linked to cultural groups:
Notre Dame Fighting Irish