USPTO: Again, Redskin Can't Be Trademarked Because It's A Racist Term

from the no-kidding dept

In the ongoing maelstrom known as the controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins NFL team name, we've covered before how the trademark they've obtained may soon be under siege. Trademark law has a provision that prohibits marks on disparaging and/or racist terminology, of which the term "redskin" is most assuredly included. This provision is a huge pain in the ass of Daniel Snyder, owner of the Redskins, who, on one hand, insists the team retain their racist name while on the other hand throws around accusations of antisemetism willy-nilly. Building on that worry is the recent case of the USPTO coming out and rejecting another trademark attempt on the word "Redskin" for those very reasons.

Well, unfortunately for Snyder, that case isn't a lone example. The USPTO has rejected another such trademark, this for "Washington Redskins Potatoes", in part of the same reason.

"Registration is refused because the applied-for mark includes matter which may disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols," the decision, handed down on March 17, says. It concludes: "Given that "REDSKIN" in the mark is a derogatory slang term that refers to, and is considered offensive by, American Indians, registration of the applied-for mark must be refused" under the Trademark Act, a 1946 law that prohibits the trademarking of offensive or derogatory terms. The examining attorney's decision cites dictionary definitions of the word "Redskins" that say it is "usually offensive" or "offensive slang," and it also notes that groups like the National Congress of American Indians and the Oneida Indian Nation regard the word as a disparaging slur.
Now, I know all you staunch libertarians out there are going to get your boxers in a twist over this, issuing all the same proclamations about how it isn't your responsibility to not offend people, how this is an infringement of speech, or how this is a sign of our increasingly politically correct society. Look, I get you. A large portion of the time on this type of question, I agree with you. But in this case, the law is pretty clear, as is the accepted definition of the term "redskin." And if the NFL team's mark was removed, it wouldn't mean Snyder had to change the name of the team, it would just mean that anyone else, were they so inclined, would be able to use the term in football commerce at that point (although, not the logo, or other trademarked identifiers for the team). The point, as it has been since day one, is that the United States government should not be in the business of sanctifying racist language via grants of trademarks.

It should be noted that the offensiveness of the term was only partly to blame for the denial of the mark. The USPTO also thought there might be some confusion between the team's existing mark and the potatoes (which might not be entirely crazy given the combination of both "washington" and "redskin" for the potato).

Meanwhile, the appeal on the NFL Redskins mark has been heard, and we're all just awaiting their ruling. If the USPTO is anything to go by, Snyder may want to look for a new name -- or at least recognize that the name won't be trademarked any more.

Filed Under: potatoes, racism, redskins, trademark, uspto

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  1. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 28 Mar 2014 @ 12:34pm


    "The main reason it was denied because they weren't trying to brand any potatoes. There's not a single potato in the application."

    Which is a highly dubious reason. I was going to say "crazy," but I'm feeling charitable today.

    There is no requirement that a trademark's design or wording have anything to do with the product or service it applies to. If that were the case, then whole ton of trademarks that exist wouldn't be valid.

    The requirement is that the mark has to be actually in use for a product or service (and the potatoes thing certainly fails in that regard).

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