The US Patent and Trademark Office has cancelled six trademarks belonging to the Washington Redskins, the NFL team that's found itself the target of increasing backlash for using a racist slur as its name. "These registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered," the USPTO wrote in its decision. These trademarks largely cover broadcast rights, however, and it's unclear if that will lead to a material impact on the team — generally seen as among them most profitable in the league.
"Thirty percent is without doubt a substantial composite."
"The record establishes that, at a minimum, approximately thirty percent of Native Americans found the term 'redskins' used in connection with respondent’s services to be disparaging at all times including 1967, 1972, 1974, 1978, and 1990," the USPTO writes. "Thirty percent is without doubt a substantial composite. To determine otherwise means it is acceptable to subject to disparagement one out of every three individuals."
These petitions have actually been cancelled once before by the USPTO, the first coming from a challenge back in 1992. That was later overturned after an appeal, however, because the court found that the decision was not supported by substantial evidence. Now, the USPTO has clearly sought to avoid a repeat of this, specifically backing up its decision with what it calls substantial evidence.
"We've seen this story before," Bob Raskopf, the Washington Redskins' trademark attorney, says in a statement. "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." Raskopf says that he is confident the team will win the trademarks back on an appeal.
Revoking the team's trademarks is one of the strategies that advocates pushing for a change have suggested. This isn't quite the ruling that they'll need, but the idea is that allowing other companies to use the Redskins' name on merchandise would make the team lose profits, creating an incentive for it to make a change. It's unclear if that would work, however, given the numerous other marks involved in merchandise, including player names and the NFL itself. And knockoffs are also by no means new.
Still, even though the loss of these trademarks won't spell a dramatic change for the team, it adds fuel to the increasingly strong movement against the team's name. Just one month ago, half of the US Senate issued a letter to the team demanding a change, saying that the team's name was part of racism and bigotry. The Redskins' owner, Daniel Snyder, has refused to acknowledge this and has said that he won't change the team's name, however. The NFL hasn't been of much help either, effectively standing behind Snyder and his reasoning.