Big setback for the Washington football team owner

Thanks to reader Marcus Ranum, I learned that the Washington football team has lost trademark protection for the name ‘Redskins’ because the term is disparaging to American Indians. The decision was handed down by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

Suzan Shown Harjo was lead petitioner in the original trademark case, which began in 1992. The TTAB canceled the team’s trademarks in 1999, just as it did today, but the team won Harjo v. Pro Football Inc. on appeal in 2003 in part because the district court ruled that the plaintiffs had waited too long to file their suit.

Harjo organized a second suit, with younger plaintiffs, including lead petitioner Amanda Blackhorse, in 2006. The original case did not end until the Supreme Court declined to hear it in 2009. Blackhorse v. Pro Football Inc. went active at that point and a 90-minute hearing was heard before the trademark board on March 7, 2013. The board took more than a year to come to today’s ruling.

This decision will be appealed of course and the team can continue to have trademark protections until the appeal is heard. And even if this decision is upheld on appeal, they can continue to use the name.

But we all know that the NFL and its team owners, and Dan Snyder is no exception, are greedy beyond measure, and they get a lot of revenue from merchandising team names on all manner of products. Losing trademark protection means that anyone can produce jerseys, mugs, and the like without restriction and losing money like that will make him cry.


  1. lorn says

    If the tribes want to cinch the deal they could flood the market with cheap knockoffs of Redskins sportswear. They could sell them or, more interesting, give them away to homeless shelters, prisons, and other places where clothing is given away. When the logo is both financially infeasible to exploit and associated with the homeless and released prisoners it is the final one-two punch for the brand.

    As it is now the logo loses protection but this decision will be appealed. They aren’t going to give up a multimillion dollar logo go without a fight to reverse this ruling. A fight they will seek to put before business friendly judges using a phalanx of high dollar lawyers.

    On the other hand, if this ruling is capitalized upon by ruining the product positioning of the brand on the street any reversal of the ruling in court is commercially mute.

  2. Trebuchet says

    Mano, it’ll be interesting to see the impact of this on your local baseball team (American cricket?) as well. Even if the name isn’t specifically offensive, the logo is horrifyingly so.

  3. ianeymeaney says

    Snyder sued unemployed people who couldn’t afford to keep their season tickets×9016743

    He sued an independent paper who ran a satirical article about him

    Snyder is now on his 8th head coach in 15 years

    He is as horrible a person as he is an owner, but as long as he doesn’t get caught with recordings of him saying racist BS, he is secure in his spot as an owner. I cannot wait to see him get beat down over this.

  4. colnago80 says

    Re #5

    Not true. Fed Ex Field was built by the previous owner, Jack Kent Cooke, and the team was moved there during his reign.

  5. Trickster Goddess says

    They won’t lose any money by changing the logo since fans won’t stop buying merch. In fact, there will be an initial spike in sales as everyone rushes to get the new stuff.

    A business case could probably be made for any team to change their logo every 10 years or so.

  6. lpetrich says

    About time. Why not some good DC-themed name like the Senators? Various DC-based sports teams have used that in the past, so I don’t know how “available” that name might be. Any other good ones? Congresses?

    As to honoring some heritage or some history, I think that that can be done in a dignified way. Nobody seems to find the names of the San Diego Padres or the Minnesota Vikings or the San Francisco 49ers very insulting.

  7. Trebuchet says

    As to honoring some heritage or some history…or the Minnesota Vikings…

    For some definitions of “history”.

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