Federal judge orders cancellation of Redskins trademark registrations

Federal judge orders cancellation of Redskins trademark registrations
Judge Gerald Bruce Lee upheld a finding by theTrademark Trial and Appeal Board, which voted last year that the name "Redskins" is offensive to Native Americans and, consequently, should not be eligible for the federal trademark registry. (Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images)

The Washington Redskins' legal battle to maintain registrations of their federal trademark suffered another setback Wednesday.

A federal judge in Virginia ordered the Patent and Trademark Office to cancel registrations of the Redskins' trademark, stating the team's name may be offensive to Native Americans.


Judge Gerald Bruce Lee upheld last year's ruling by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which voted the name "Redskins" is offensive to Native Americans and, consequently, should not be eligible for the federal trademark registry. Federal trademark law prohibits names or logos that "may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute."

In his 70-page ruling, Lee said the franchise is free to use the Redskins name, but it would lose some of the legal protections that go along with federal registration.

Even without federal registrations, the Redskins still have common-law trademark protection but are not afforded all the protections of federal law that include the potential to recover actual damages, punitive damages, attorney fees and injunctions.

The Redskins will appeal the ruling, which is not binding until all appeals have been exhausted. The team was seeking to overturn the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board's decision, saying the cancellation of the trademark infringed on its free-speech rights because it allowed the government to decide whether its name was offensive.

Lee wrote in his decision there is ample evidence the Redskins' name may be perceived by Native Americans as disparaging even though the team claims the name honors the group. He also disagreed with the Redskins' stance that trademark registration is free speech, stating federal law allows the government to exercise control over the content of the trademark registration program.

Redskins President Bruce Allen expressed confidence the franchise will eventually prevail in the case.

"We are convinced that we will win because the facts and the law are on the side of our franchise that has proudly used the name Redskins for more than 80 years," Allen said in a statement.

The initial decision came after petitions were made to the board last year by five Native American activists. The Redskins have been fighting legal challenges to their trademark registrations from Native American groups and activists periodically since 1992.

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has resisted calls by Native American groups and politicians to change the franchise's name. In 2013, President Obama weighed in on the matter, saying he supported a name change.

"If I were the owner of the team and I knew that the name of my team — even if they've had a storied history — was offending a sizable group of people, I'd think about changing it," Obama told the Associated Press.

In May 2014, 50 U.S. senators asked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to support a name change for the Redskins, calling supporters of the nickname "on the wrong side of history."

The Redskins' name is a "unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect," Goodell said in 2013.

Staff writer Sam Farmer and the Associated Press contributed to this report.