Washington NFL team loses federal trademark protections

| Jul 15, 2015 | Trademark Law

Football fans in California are likely aware that the name and trademarks of the Washington NFL franchise have been the subject of a contentious legal dispute. Native Americans have long objected to the team calling itself the Redskins, and the storied franchise was dealt a blow on July 8 when a U.S. District Court judge ordered that the cancellation of six of their trademarks should go ahead, affirming a decision that had been made in June by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

A group of five Native Americans had brought a legal action seeking cancellation of the trademarks because they were disparaging and violated the Lanham Act. The team had argued that cancellation would infringe its right to free speech. The cancellation will not go into effect until all appeals have been heard, and a representative of the team vowed that the decision would be appealed.

While the ruling does not prevent the franchise from using the controversial team name or the disputed trademarks, federal legal protections will be lost if the team’s appeals are unsuccessful. Attorneys representing the team may still pursue trademark infringement cases under common law in state courts, but losing federal trademark protection is seen as a major financial blow for the organization. The trademarks were considered to be in violation of the Lanham Act because they may be considered offensive by a large number of Native Americans.

Intellectual property is often a vital business asset, and an attorney with experience in this area could help ensure that it is adequately protected by trademarks, copyrights and patents. What is considered acceptable by society changes over time, and an attorney could assess the wording or imagery contained in trademarks to determine if they violate the terms of the Lanham Act.