In Pro-Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee ruled in favor of five Native American individuals who are seeking cancellation of the trademark registrations of the Washington NFL Team. Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP represents the Native Americans.
In June 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) ruled in favor of Drinker Biddle’s clients. The TTAB granted their petition to cancel six of the team’s trademark registrations that contain the term “redskin.” The TTAB found that the team’s trademarks were ineligible for registration under federal trademark law because they disparage Native Americans. In August 2014, the team filed suit in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, to overturn the TTAB’s decision.
Today, Judge Lee granted summary judgment in favor of the Native Americans. Like the TTAB, Judge Lee found that the term “redskin” disparages Native Americans and, as a result, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office should never have registered the team’s trademarks. Judge Lee also rejected the team’s argument that cancellation of its trademark registrations would violate the First Amendment.
The Native American individuals who initially petitioned the TTAB in 2006 are Amanda Blackhorse, Marcus Briggs-Cloud, Phillip Gover, Jillian Pappan and Courtney Tsotigh.
“This was an extremely hard-fought litigation,” said Andrew C. Kassner, Chairman and CEO of Drinker Biddle. “The case raised complex factual issues dating back to the 1930s, as well as difficult Constitutional and trademark law questions that courts had not previously considered. This victory was due to the hard work and professionalism of our attorneys and the perseverance of our clients. We feel very gratified to have prevailed.”
“Today's ruling by the District Court resoundingly affirmed the Trademark Office’s decision that the team’s trademark registrations should never have been issued.” said Jesse Witten, the lead Drinker Biddle partner litigating this case.
“Judge Gerald Bruce Lee found that the evidence we presented – opposition to the team name by the National Congress of American Indians and other leading Native American groups and individuals, dictionary definitions, scholarly articles, and newspaper clips − demonstrated the disparaging nature of the team’s name. This decision is a victory for human dignity and for my courageous clients who have waited so long for this ruling.”