One of the most salient features of a business is its brand. In many cases, that brand is best represented by the business's name and other intellectual property assets. And to protect those assets, many companies will file for trademark protection.
The federal government sometimes will refuse to approve a trademark if it is too similar to something already existing. However, another reason the United States Patent and Trademark Office might refuse to approve a trademark is if it is deemed to be offensive -- for example, if it disparages a big component of a group of people.
For that reason, the office has declined to approve trademarks for names considered to be offensive to Native Americans -- such as "Redskins." Two years ago, for example, a computer software firm was denied the use of the term Redskins for its product.
There is, of course, a well-known organization using that name today: the Washington Redskins of the National Football League. Defenders of the nickname say it has been used for decades, going back to the team's early years in Boston. But the club didn't actually trademark its name until the 1960s.
Many people have expressed their displeasure with the name, saying it connotes old stereotypes, and asserting that the government should revoke the football team's trademark on those grounds. However, at least one expert says that the crucial part of determining if the name is offensive goes back to how it was perceived at the time of its approval -- in other words, in the 1960s -- rather than in 2013.
Regardless of how people view the issue, it is important to note that fights over trademarks can go on for decades -- or lie dormant for decades, only to pop up again later. For this reason, the expertise of a trademark law attorney might help to make the process of securing and defending a trademark more straightforward.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, "The Never-Ending Legal Battle Over the Redskins Trademark," Jacob Gershman, Oct. 21, 2013