On Wednesday, a judge in West Virginia cancelled the trademark registrations for the NFL team, the Redskins. The trademark is considered racist against Native Americans and offended many in the years it was used. This is perhaps the team’s greatest legal battle yet.
The court used the Lanham Act to determine their ruling. It was established in 1946 and is supposed to protect those who create and own trademarks from confusion and “dilution.” In essence, this means someone else can’t make a logo that’s exactly like or close to yours.
In June 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled that the Redskins were in violation of part of the Lanham Act. This section says that marks that “may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or dispute” are prohibited. The team decided to appeal a year later.
The case was Pro Football, Inc. v Amanda Blackhorse. The plaintiff, Pro Football, Inc., attempted to argue that cancelling this trademark violated the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. According to the plaintiff, it also goes against the Fifth Amendment, since the Lanham Act doesn’t go into great detail about what “disparage” really means. Ultimately, Judge Gerald Bruce Lee slashed those arguments because the Lanham Act does not hinder free speech. The federal trademark program is a matter of government speech, so the rules of the First Amendment do not apply.
Additionally, Judge Lee ruled that the Fifth Amendment wasn’t violated. Pro Football was unable to prove that canceling the trademark was unconstitutional “in all of its applications.” Then, Lee asked why the Washington team ever chose this as their name. He reminded them that the Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines it as “often contemptuous.” This has been the case since about 1898. There is speculation that the case could reach the Supreme Court of the United States.
According to Domenic Romano, an attorney who studied at Oxford University, it’s “a logical business catastrophe if the ruling is upheld.” He writes that the team won’t be able to “rely on U.S. customs to prevent importation or infringing or counterfeit foreign goods.” They also won’t be able to “rely on constructive notice of their trademark.” From now on, they will need to depend on state rights, which are not as strong as federal rights. Not all laws are “applicable throughout all 50 states.”
On a more personal level, the majority of the country seems to side with Amanda Blackhorse and others from Native American descent. The team’s trademark isn’t cute or funny. It’s offended people countless times, and that’s not acceptable. It’s especially unacceptable in a more progressive, 2015 America.