Redskins Loss at the Patent Office Changes Nothing
Civil rights activists are hailing the recent decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel six trademarks belonging to the Washington Redskins. The agency ruled the trademarks are offensive to Native Americans. But the ruling doesn't mean anything. In fact, the decision will be overturned on appeal like it was 16 years ago when the Redskins' trademark was similarly canceled.
Besides, there are thousands of trademark names that could be considered offensive, and the patent office is not doing anything to cancel those. For instance, the office could cancel Augusta National, which has a history of discriminating against women and African-Americans. The Cleveland Indians should also lose trademark protection for their cartoon logo of a red-faced Native American with a wide smile showing off big teeth.
Or how about canceling the trademarks for Aunt Jemima, Hooters, and Oreo? I'm sure black women, college girls, and children of interracial marriages might find those names just as offensive as "Redskins."
Truth is, the patent office is just caving to public pressure. Team owner Daniel Snyder is facing mounting criticism. In May, 49 senators, including majority leader Harry Reid, signed a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell saying that the "team is on the wrong side of history." A week later, a coalition of 77 tribal, civil rights, and religious groups, including the National Congress of American Indians and the NAACP, signed a letter urging players to campaign to change the team's mascot.
The patent office's ruling doesn't force Washington to change its name, though. It does hinder the team's ability to protect its rights against unlicensed merchandisers. But Snyder has history on his side.
The patent office's trial and appeals board rescinded the team's trademark protections in a 1999 ruling that was part of a case filed in 1993. A federal court overturned that decision in 2003, saying there was no proof the name was disparaging at the time of trademark registrations in 1967 and 1990.
Redskins attorneys say the current case is no different. They're probably right.
Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.
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