Washington Redskins Trademark Revoked: What Does It Mean for the Team?

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What's going to happen to the Washington Redskins now that the U.S. Patent and Trademark office said the team's federal trademarks will be canceled?

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The government agency ruled 2-1, following a petition by five Native Americans, today that the team's name is "disparaging of Native Americans."

PHOTO: A Redskins flag is displayed at a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins
G Fiume/Getty Images
PHOTO: A Redskins flag is displayed at a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins

As a result, the team may have a harder time protecting its name and logo if other people use them without permission on, say, sweatshirts and hats, the Associated Press reported.

Robert Tuchman, president of sports and marketing firm Goviva, called the decision "much bigger than the Redskins."

"If they are forced to change what does that mean for the Chicago Blackhawks and other teams that are in the same boat?" he said.

"This puts a big dent in their business model of trying to gain revenue from a disparaging term of slur," Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wa.) told ESPN. "I find it very unlikely that someone is going to overrule the patent office on this. This is a huge decision by a federal agency."

Cantwell, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, authored a letter signed by 50 Democratic senators last month that encouraged a name change. Cantwell also said that if the Redskins and the league refuse to change the name, there are many options available for the Senate, including perhaps ridding the NFL of its tax exempt status.

Lawyers, however, have differing opinions about whether your local T-shirt company can now print and sell Redskins gear.

"This decision does not mean that the Redskins trademark is no longer enforceable, or that third parties will now be able to sell Redskins merchandise," said Monica Riva Talley, a trademark attorney not involved in this dispute.

Riva Talley said the team still owns enforceable “common law” trademark rights in the name based on its many decades of use. Even Riva Talley admits the decision may have a domino-effect in the dispute over the team's name and logo, which Native American groups have called racist.

"What it may do is help sway public opinion as to whether a sports team, much less one located in the nation’s capital, should use a term found to disparage a segment of the population," she said.

From a brand value perspective, Riva Talley said the Redskins trademark may become less marketable if the public perception is that the mark is disparaging.

An NFL spokesman declined to comment.

Bob Raskopf, trademark attorney for the Washington Redskins, said in a statement: “We’ve seen this story before. And just like last time [in 1967], today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo."

Raskopf said the team is "confident" that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s ruling will be overturned on appeal.

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