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Last month, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office fired a shot across the bow of Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins football club. Over the past 20 years, numerous parties have tried to persuade the NFL franchise to change its team name, arguing that the term “redskin” is racist and offensive to Native Americans. So far their attempts, running the gamut from polite requests to legal action, have come up short. However, on January 7 the USPTO issued a ruling that could set the stage for another legal challenge to the Redskins trademark.
A company that manufactures pork rinds submitted an application to register a trademark entitled “Redskins Hog Rinds.” However, under Article 2(a) of the Lanham Act, a trademark may not be granted if it “… consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute ….” The USPTO stated it refused to grant the trademark for Redskins Hog Rinds because it contained a derogatory slang term that may disparage or disrepute persons, institutions, beliefs or national symbols.
If the Washington Redskins’ trademark was challenged and overturned, the biggest consequence would likely be economic. Any person could produce materials that displayed the logo and could sell them without threat of legal recourse from the team of the NFL. The impact of losing the trademark would be felt league-wide, however, since the NFL pools all the money from sales of merchandise and distributes an equal share to each team. The team’s owner, Dan Snyder, has staunchly said that he will not change the name even if the the trademark is revoked. Whatever money is generated by the sale of merchandise may end up being a drop in the bucket, since the team earned an estimated 109 million dollars in profit last year.
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