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Patent office cancels controversial Redskins trademark

After a year of heightened controversy over the Washington Redskins name and logo, the football team suffered a blow to its intellectual property rights recently when its trademark registration was canceled by the U.S. Patent Office.

In its ruling, the appeal board said the team name was disparaging to Native Americans. Federal trademark law prohibits the registration of trademarks that are disparaging to groups or individuals, or that "bring them into contempt or disrepute."

The decision is a major milestone for those who wish to see the team's name changed, but the victory may be largely symbolic. Although the board's ruling cancels the Redskins trademark, it does not prevent the team from continuing to use the name or logo.

Instead, the decision may simply limit the team's ability to stop others from using its trademark without permission, which could potentially take a bite out of the team's merchandizing profits. It remains to be seen, however, whether the ruling will have even that relatively limited effect.

The team has appealed the decision, which is a process that could take years. In the meantime, the trademark registration will remain in effect. Furthermore, even if the appeal is unsuccessful, the team may still be able to enforce its rights to the name by relying on common law rather than the federal trademark statute. 

By registering their trademarks, companies can protect the logos, words, phrases or symbols that they use to identify their brands. Although trademarks and copyrights have some similarities, and may overlap at times, they each involve a different set of important legal rights. By taking steps to protect those rights, business owners can help safeguard their intellectual property from unauthorized use.

Source: Washington Post, "Federal agency cancels Redskins trademark registration, says name is disparaging," Theresa Vargas, June 18, 2014

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