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U.S. Patent Office finds Redskins' name offensive

By Joseph White

AP Sports Writer

LAST UPDATED: 11:54 a.m. HST, Jun 18, 2014

WASHINGTON >> The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled Wednesday that the Washington Redskins' name is "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 Redskins owner Dan Snyder from political, religious and sports figures who say it's time for a change.

"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, if only because it imperils the ability of the team's billionaire owner to keep profiting off the denigration and dehumanization of Native Americans," 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 in a statement.

The Redskins quickly announced they will 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," Redskins attorney Bob Raskopf said. "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. 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 and is a source of pride among many American Indians.

The ruling involves six uses of the Redskins name trademarked by the team from 1967 to 1990. It does not apply to the team's American Indian head logo.

If it 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.

"Joe in Peoria is going to have a pretty good argument that he could put the 'Redskins' name on some T-shirt," said Brad Newberg, a copyright law expert in Virginia.

Newberg estimated that the ruling, if upheld, could cost the team tens of millions of dollars per year. Forbes magazine puts the value of the Redskins franchise at $1.7 billion and says $145 million of that is attributable to the team's brand.

The board exercised its authority under a section of the Trademark Act of 1946 that disallows trademarks that may disparage others or bring them into contempt or disrepute. Over the years, the courts have rejected arguments that the First Amendment guarantees the right to register any name as a trademark.

In reaching its decision, the board drew on the testimony of three experts in linguistics and lexicography and combed through old dictionaries, books, newspapers, magazines and even vintage movie quotes to examine the history of "redskin," looking specifically at whether it was considered disparaging at the time the trademarks were issued.

The board concluded that today's dictionaries "uniformly label the term 'offensive' or 'disparaging'" -- a change that took place between the late 1960s and the 1990s -- and that its derogatory nature is further demonstrated by "the near complete drop-off in usage of 'redskins'" as a term for Native Americans beginning in the 1960s.

Also, the board said a "substantial" number of Native Americans -- at least about 30 percent -- have found the team's use of the term to be offensive.

The ruling follows decisions earlier this year that rejected trademark requests for "Redskins Hog Rinds" and "Washington Redskin Potatoes."

Courts overturned the board's 1999 ruling in part because the plaintiffs waited too long to voice their objections after the original trademarks were issued. The case was relaunched in 2006 by a younger group of Native Americans who only recently became adults and would not have been able to file a case earlier.

The chorus of critics against the use of the name has grown over the past year.

President Barack Obama himself said last year that he would think about changing the name if he owned the team.

On Saturday, a major sector of the United Church of Christ voted to urge its 40,000 members to boycott the Redskins. On Capitol Hill, half the Senate recently wrote letters to the NFL urging a change because "racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports."

Washington Mayor Vincent Gray suggested Wednesday that the name will almost certainly have to change if the team ever wants to build a new stadium in the city.

Snyder, who has vowed repeatedly never to abandon the name, declined to comment as he walked off the field after a practice Wednesday.

Redskins players have mostly avoided the topic.

"Our job as players is to focus on what we can on this field day-in and day-out and let the legal people take care of that stuff," quarterback Robert Griffin III said. "And when it's the right time, then we can voice whatever it is we know about the situation."

The Redskins have responded to critics by creating a foundation to give financial support to Indian tribes. Suzan Shown Harjo, a leading figure in the trademark case, called the foundation "somewhere between a PR assault and bribery."

Supporters of a name change hailed the decision.

"Daniel Snyder may be the last person in the world to realize this," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor, "but it is just a matter of time until he is forced to do the right thing."


AP National Writer Eddie Pells in Denver and Associated Press writer Sam Hananel contributed to this report.

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ehbrah wrote:
about time.
on June 18,2014 | 05:37AM
about time for lunch.
on June 18,2014 | 12:32PM
lokela wrote:
They can now call themselves the Washington Bureaucrats.
on June 18,2014 | 06:12AM
soundofreason wrote:
They just need to change their image from the Indian to be the one the Coppertone sun tan oil company uses - the little blonde headed/pig tailed 10 yr old on the beach with the dog pulling down on her bathing suit to reveal her sun burn. Mud in their eye.


on June 18,2014 | 06:49AM
Fairfax wrote:
I too find the name Redskins offensive, but it is also a private organization that should be able to name itself whatever it wants to (as long as it doesn't infringe on another organization's trademark). The government should not be dictating naming standards to this degree. If the fans don't like the name, they should vote with their dollars. The Redskins can continue to use the name, just without federal trademark protection.
on June 18,2014 | 07:15AM
soundofreason wrote:
Strong agree. Harry Reid has said he's not going to attend any of their games until they change their name. Now, he's only assuring that they'll keep it to keep him away.
on June 18,2014 | 07:26AM
st1d wrote:
what about unlv's running rebels that glorify the confederate slave states attempt to continue slavery? reid has no problem there.
on June 18,2014 | 01:16PM
ryan02 wrote:
They CAN continue to use the name, only without federal trademark protection. I don't see how that infringes on any private right, since they can still use the name. As for the loss of federal trademark protection, I don't see a problem. The federal government has laws against discrimination based on race, etc., so why should the government protect racist trademarks when it has laws against racism? Again, the private owners can call themselves whatever they want -- they just don't get to force the U.S. government to protect their racist name.
on June 18,2014 | 08:10AM
FWS wrote:
The problem is that without the trademark protection, the team owners lose control over their name on souvenirs, t-shirts, coffee mugs, towels, bumper stickers, etc., etc. Those are worth millions. The end result will be the opposite of what the government intended. Instead of stopping the use of the name, it will help propagate the name everywhere as vendors look to cash in. As is typical, whenever the government gets involved with something that should be free enterprise, they mess it up--just like VA healthcare and Obamacare.
on June 18,2014 | 10:14AM
AhiPoke wrote:
My question is, who gave the Trademark Board the authority to determine what is "disparaging". I think it sets a dangerous precedent. As an example, is the term "colored people" still acceptable? If not, can this board rule the NAACP a "disparaging" name?
on June 18,2014 | 11:19AM
kainalu wrote:
I consider the term one of respect. Meanwhile, more government intervention.
on June 18,2014 | 07:26AM
Slow wrote:
Then you consider the Honolulu Brown Skins to be a term of respect too?
on June 18,2014 | 08:04AM
false wrote:
Naw, not Brown Skins. Brownies.
on June 18,2014 | 08:26AM
HIE wrote:
yeah? Would it be respectful for San Francisco to change their name to the "Yellowskins" and use the image of an Asian person? And, actually, this means LESS government intervention. The government is no longer handling the trademarking of Redskins, so the government has decreased its involvement going forward.
on June 18,2014 | 08:09AM
Cricket_Amos wrote:
It is a disparaging term, and it makes the team look bad to continue using it.
on June 18,2014 | 07:27AM
thepartyfirst wrote:
If the founders of this team were racists then it is a disparaging name but they were not racists. So, it is a racists person who is viewing this as racists.
on June 18,2014 | 09:15AM
AhiPoke wrote:
Was it a "disparaging term" 75 years ago?
on June 18,2014 | 09:51AM
75 years ago there was no definition for disparaging-it was only brought into our language bout the same time "politically correct" was 1st used.
on June 18,2014 | 12:36PM
HIE wrote:
75 years ago, they could have called a team the "Negr0es" and it would have been considered okay. Using the excuse that it was okay decades ago is not a legitimate argument that it's fine today.
on June 18,2014 | 01:03PM
AhiPoke wrote:
I don't disagree. My concern is where you draw the line. The example I used is, do you consider the term "colored people" disparaging? I think most African/American people do. So then should this trademark board rule the NAACP's name disparaging and take away their trademark?
on June 18,2014 | 01:16PM
ricekidd wrote:
Im native american but I don't get my panties in a bunch just because the name....plus my father and I was Redskins fan during my childhood... Everyone needs to be let go of being so sensitive... but again everyone now days are ANAL about anything...
on June 18,2014 | 07:31AM
purigorota wrote:
I agree that it is offensive. They should remove Washington from their name.
on June 18,2014 | 07:55AM
788686 wrote:
Change the name to the Deadskins....team sucks!
on June 18,2014 | 08:23AM
AhiPoke wrote:
The way our country is going it's only a matter of time before the words Hawaiian, Warriors, Polynesian, Asian, Japanese, Chinese, man, woman, girl, boy, etc., etc., etc. will be considered slurs and be prohited from use.
on June 18,2014 | 08:35AM
Ronin006 wrote:
There was a time in America when people of black color were called Negroes. It was offensive to refer to them as black. That changed starting in the 1960s with the Black Power movement. Black pride was in. People of black color no longer wanted to be called Negroes and preferred to be called black. The Black Power movement brought incredible gains to the civil rights of blacks and other people of color. Native American activists who are making much to do about nothing ought to take a page out of Black America’s play book and be proud their heritage and yes, the color of their skin.
on June 18,2014 | 09:22AM
Holomua wrote:
Rename the team the "Washington U.S. Cavalry"
on June 18,2014 | 09:54AM
KWAY wrote:
Washington Snyders has a nice ring to it. So what abnout the KC Chiefs now? The KC Chefs?
on June 18,2014 | 11:09AM
Jerry_D wrote:
Amendment rights (and remember, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land). If it stands, then ALL businesses with "offensive" names would be affected. That includes local businesses "Popolo's Chicken and BBQ" in Makawao, "Popolo Jones" on Vineyard Blvd, "808 Handy Haole" in Pahoa, "Haole Boy Coffee" on the Big Island, etc. I never realized there was a problem with the "Redskins" moniker until someone made it a problem, more than likely the idealistic younger generation once again trying to fix things that really ain't broke (while the lawyers profit from this)...
on June 18,2014 | 11:42AM
KaneoheSJ wrote:
Washington Warriors? Washington Braves? Those are the thoughts running through the franchise as their name is quickly sliding between their fingers.
on June 18,2014 | 11:51AM
Ronin006 wrote:
How about Washington Reds, the color associated with Republicans, or a generic name like Washington Skins?
on June 18,2014 | 04:16PM
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