Washington NFL Team’s Trademarks Cancelled by Federal Ruling

By Sameer Rao Jul 08, 2015

In yet another blow against their recalcitrant no-name-change policy, the Washington NFL Team (you all hopefully know the legal name) lost a federal court case today when U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee ordered the scheduling of six federal trademark registrations to be canceled. The ruling says that given the team’s actual, racist name, they could maintain federal trademark registrations. 

The ruling came after a long period of legal contention over the team’s name, starting with a 1992 court case by Susan Harjo and a group of Native American activists. Harjo drew upon the Lanham Act, which bans federal trademark registration for those marks that disparage select groups or individuals, and that act was used as justification in Judge Lee’s current ruling. Harjo and her fellow petitioners won their case in 1999, but the ruling was overturned in 2003 after the team appealed the case. 

The current ruling bolsters the findings of the patent office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which ruled last year in favor of Amanda Blackhorse and four other Native Americans who sought the registrations’ cancelation. 

"The federal trademark program is government speech and is therefore exempt from First Amendment scrutiny," affirmed Lee in the conclusion of his 70-page ruling. The team may still use its name for non-federal purposes, but its public image is likely to suffer further. 

(H/t USA Today)