The Washington Redskins will appeal a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decision to cancel the trademark registration for the use of the team's controversial name on the grounds that it is "disparaging" to native Americans.
The NFL team has come under fire in recent years for its use of a nickname that many people say is racist and insensitive.
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"We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered," the patent office said in a ruling Wednesday.
'It is a great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans.'- Amanda Blackhorse,, among native Americans in lawsuit
Despite its base in one of the smaller cities in the league, Washington's team is among the most popular in the NFL, and has been deemed the second-most valuable in the league in rankings by Forbes.
There has been a growing movement for the team to change its name, something the franchise and the NFL have resisted.
The patent office's decision does not preclude the NFL team from using the name. Rather, it simply means the organization no longer has the statutory right to register the trademark — which means the name can be used by anyone, including those who wish to mock the team or draw attention to what could be deemed as a racist name.
The decision, if upheld, would also:
- Limit the money the team and the league can earn from selling jerseys and other merchandise emblazoned with the name and logo.
- Strip the team of the rights to the term "Redskinettes," the nickname for its cheerleaders.
- Strip the team of sole use of the iconic image in the logo.
The ruling comes eight years after a group of native Americans, including Amanda Blackhorse, filed a suit against the team's use of the name.
"I am extremely happy that the [patent office] ruled in our favour,” Blackhorse said in a statement to progressive news website ThinkProgress.org.
“It is a great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans. We filed our petition eight years ago and it has been a tough battle ever since.
"I hope this ruling brings us a step closer to that inevitable day when the name of the Washington football team will be changed. The team’s name is racist and derogatory. I’ve said it before and I will say it again — if people wouldn’t dare call a Native American a ‘redskin’ because they know it is offensive, how can an NFL football team have this name?"
It's the second time the team has faced a challenge to its name along patent grounds, the last time dating back to 1992, when Suzan Harjo and six other native Americans filed suit.
The team lost that time, too, before the ruling was overturned on appeal. And there's every indication that could happen again, as the team said in a press release it remains confident it will ultimately prevail.
"This ruling — which of course we will appeal — simply addresses the team’s federal trademark registrations, and the team will continue to own and be able to protect its marks without the registrations," said the team's trademark lawyer, Bob Raskopf. "The registrations will remain effective while the case is on appeal."
"We’ve seen this story before. And just like last time, 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.
For her part, Harjo said she was "thrilled and delighted" with the decision.