NFL team argues trademarks not offensive

| Jun 30, 2015 | Trademark Law

Football fans in California are likely aware that Native American groups have been harsh critics of the Washington Redskins NFL team. Six of the team’s trademarks were canceled in 2014 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office because they were considered offensive, but lawyers representing the professional sports franchise appealed the ruling on June 23.

The outcome of this trademark dispute could have serious financial consequences. The National Football League is a global behemoth, and the Washington Redskins are one of its most storied and recognizable franchises. An NFL representative commenting on the controversy said that depriving the team of these trademarks amounted to a violation of the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

U.S. law does not allow trademarks that are disparaging, and the legal argument in this trademark dispute will come down to whether or not the name of the team is offensive to a large number of Native Americans. When it made its ruling to cancel the trademarks in 2014, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office tribunal said that about a third of Native Americans found the team’s name offensive. However, attorneys for the team point out that children from over 80 Native American tribes participated in a half-time show during one of the team’s games in 1977.

Protecting intellectual property is vital for many businesses. An attorney with experience in this area could assist businesses with trademark applications and verify that the mark in question is available. An attorney could also seek civil remedies on behalf of copyright, trademark or patent owners when their intellectual property is duplicated or reproduced without permission.