Redskins: Until Further Notice


The Washington Redskins’ decades long trademark saga could be coming to a close but not in their favor.  After the United States District Court for the District of Columbia overturned the cancellation of the Washington Redskins trademark in 2003, following years of appeals, new plaintiffs are charging with what seems like a promising new claim against the Redskins trademark[1. Matthew Swyers, The Washington Redskins Trademark Fight, Inc., (Mar. 21, 2013),] while simultaneously introducing a bill in congress that if passed, would annul the team’s trademark.[2. Catalina Camia, Bill in Congress Challenges Redskins Trademark, USA Today, (Mar. 20, 2013, 7:12 PM),]

In 1992 Suzan Harjo organized a small group of Native Americans to petition the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board for U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“TTAB”) to annul The Washington Redskins’ trademarked NFL team name, listing that the name was scandalous and immoral under The Trademark Act of 1946.[3. See Supra, Note 1.] The Trademark Act of 1946 bars marks that can be perceived as immoral, scandalous or offensive to a segment of the population.[4. 15 U.S.C. § 1052 (a).]  While at first impression the claim may appear to have been a slam- dunk for petitioners, on appeal, the reviewing court determined that the petitioners had waited too long to bring their claim, thereby causing an unfair detriment to the Redskins.[5. Supra, Note 1.]

A new group of plaintiffs have advanced a claim, which sources say, gets around the issue of the unfairness caused by the timing of the claim.[6. Swyers, The Washington Redskins Trademark Fight] This new case, Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, has been fully argued and is now currently waiting a decision from the TTAB.  But even a favorable ruling by the TTAB would not guarantee the permanence of the Redskins trademark, given that legislation was also introduced in congress on March 13th.[7. See Supra, Note 2.]   The Bill seeks to cancel all trademark registrations and amend existing laws that refer to Native Americans as “redskins”.[8. Id.]   If passed into law, The Washington Redskins’ name would be invalidated.

It could be a matter of months for a decision to come from the TTAB, and even longer for a decision on the bill, however, one thing is clear: the odds are no longer in The Washington Redskins favor.


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