Saturday, November 29, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

U.S. Patent Office finds Redskins' name offensive

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled Wednesday that the Washington Redskins' name was "disparaging of Native Americans" and should be stripped of trademark protection - a decision that puts powerful new financial and political pressure on the NFL team to rename itself.

By a vote of 2-1, the agency's Trademark Trial and Appeal Board sided with five Native Americans in a dispute that has been working its way through legal channels for more than two decades.

The ruling doesn't directly force the team to abandon the name, but it adds momentum to the campaign at a time of increasing criticism of team owner Dan Snyder.

"If the most basic sense of morality, decency and civility has not yet convinced the Washington team and the NFL to stop using this hateful slur, then hopefully today's patent ruling will . . . ," Oneida Indian representative Ray Halbritter and National Congress of American Indians executive director Jackie Pata, two of the leading forces in the campaign to change the name, said.

The Redskins quickly announced they would appeal, and the team's name will continue to have trademark protection while the matter makes its way through the courts - a process that could take years.

A similar ruling by the board in 1999 was overturned on a technicality in 2003.

"We've seen this story before," team attorney Bob Raskopf said. ". . . We are confident we will prevail once again."

Snyder and others associated with the team have long argued that the Redskins name is used with respect and honor.

If the ruling stands, the team will still be free to use the name but will lose a lot of its ability to protect its financial interests. It will be more difficult for the team to go after others who print the Redskins name on sweatshirts, jerseys, or other gear without permission.

Brad Newberg, a copyright-law expert, estimated the ruling, if upheld, could cost the team tens of millions of dollars per year.

Change Ahead for Other Teams, Too?

While attention is focused on the Washington Redskins, other pro teams, from baseball's Atlanta Braves to football's Kansas City Chiefs to basketball's Golden State Warriors and hockey's Chicago Blackhawks, have American Indian-related names and market related merchandise.

While the Indians' Chief Wahoo and the Braves' "Tomahawk Chop" may make many uncomfortable, only the Redskins were the subject of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office action.

A key difference, argues Jim Rosini, a trademark lawyer with Kenyon & Kenyon, is that "Chiefs," "Indians," and the other team names are probably seen as more generic than offensive.

"Where should the line be drawn?" Rosini asked. "Does it disparage Native Americans?" Dictionaries uniformly list "redskins" as offensive.

On the college side, St. John's University in New York, which said it had named its players after its red uniforms, in 1994 changed its name from the Redmen to the Red Storm. Miami University of Ohio in 1997 changed from Redskins to RedHawks.

In 2005, the NCAA banned hostile and abusive American Indian imagery at its championship events. - Bloomberg News

Joseph White Associated Press
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