Headline - 06/18/2014

Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Cancels Washington NFL Team’s Trademark Registrations

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled in favor of the petitioners in Blackhorse v. Pro -Football, Inc,  a landmark case that Drinker Biddle & Reath filed in 2006 on behalf of five Native Americans seeking to cancel trademark registrations of the “Washington Redskins” because the use of the term “redskins” disparages Native Americans.    The case is the culmination and vindication of a multi-decade effort by Native Americans and others who object to the team’s name as derogatory and offensive.

“We are extraordinarily gratified to have prevailed in this case,” said Alfred W.  Putnam, Jr., Chairman of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.  “The dedication and professionalism of our attorneys and the determination of our clients have resulted in a milestone victory that will serve as an historic precedent,” Putnam said.

The five petitioners, Amanda Blackhorse, Phillip Gover, Marcus Briggs-Cloud, Jillian Pappan and Courtney Tsotigh, came together eight years ago to seek the cancellation of six different trademarks associated with the Washington NFL team.  The federal trademark law does not permit registration of trademarks that “may disparage” individuals or groups or “bring them into contempt or disrepute.”  

“The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with our clients that the team’s name and trademarks disparage Native Americans.  The Board ruled that the Trademark Office should never have registered these trademarks in the first place,” said Jesse Witten, the lead Drinker Biddle partner litigating this case.  “We presented a wide variety of evidence – including dictionary definitions and other reference works, newspaper clippings, movie clips, scholarly articles, expert linguist testimony, and evidence of the historic opposition by Native American groups – to demonstrate that the word ‘redskin’ is an ethnic slur.”  Witten added.  “This victory was a long time coming and reflects the hard work of many attorneys at our firm.”

To read the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board's decision, please click here.

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