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IP Alert: Federal Judge Orders Cancellation of Redskins' Trademark Registrations

July 9, 2015

A federal court has affirmed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s cancellation of six federal trademark registrations that contain the term “Redskins,” ruling that the team name may be disparaging to Native Americans.

The decision by Judge Gerald Lee of the Eastern District of Virginia in Pro-Football, Inc. v. Amanda Blackhorse affirms the June 2014 ruling by the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB). As previously reported, the TTAB cancelled six federal trademark registrations held by the Washington Redskins football team, ruling that the marks were “disparaging to Native Americans” at the time they were registered. Shortly thereafter, the Washington Redskins filed a complaint with a Virginia district court, seeking reversal of the TTAB’s decision.

In the July 8, 2015 holding, the Virginia district court found that “the meaning of the marks is one that ‘may disparage’ a substantial composite of Native Americans in the context of the ‘Washington Redskins’ football team.” On this basis, the court affirmed the June 2014 TTAB decision and directed the USPTO to order the cancellation of the registrations of the marks.

An appeal is expected. The cancellation would not take effect unless the Washington Redskins fail to overturn the decision on appeal. Further, as noted by the court, the decision to cancel the registration of the marks does not preclude the team from using the marks in commerce. 

Fitch Even attorneys will continue to monitor this case and report on any developments. For more information on this decision, please contact Fitch Even attorney Brett J. Smith, the author of this alert.


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