In the wake of the decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the trademark registration of the Washington Redskins, it’s unclear how significantly the NFL franchise will be affected.
The Patent Office said it canceled the registration because the nickname Redskins is “disparaging to Native Americans.”
For the record 2:05 p.m.: An earlier version of this post misspelled the law firm Drinker, Biddle and Reath as Dinkler, Biddle and Reath.
“We don’t think trademark litigation will be what persuades this team to change this name,” Jesse Witten, lead attorney in the case against the team, told The Times’ Evan Halper. “It will be the view of broader society that the name needs to change. … But this is an important decision by the U.S. government that it should play no part in promoting this team’s ethnic slur.”
The Redskins have announced that they will appeal the ruling. They will still have trademark protection while that process plays out.
The decision does not preclude the franchise from continuing to use its name, and it might not even erode its trademark protection much. The true effect of the decision might not be known until the Redskins file suit against the next person or entity selling unauthorized merchandise.
“Their trademarks have lesser level of trademark protection than they did before,” said Witten, of Drinker, Biddle and Reath. “The exact degree is left unresolved by this opinion. The team will argue it still has a common law trademark protection.
“The maximum this opinion could mean is anyone could go out and sell Redskins merchandise. I would not recommend that to anyone. The team would likely sue them.”
Witten, who called the decision “uncharted territory,” said it won’t be his clients who try to test the ruling by selling unlicensed merchandise.
“My clients hate the Redskins name,” he said. “They are not going to sell their jerseys. So we won’t be on the receiving end of that lawsuit. But if anybody else sells jerseys, that would be the occasion for a court to intervene. … It would be up to the judge to interpret the law of trademarks, which is broader than today’s ruling.”
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