Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman

Redskins ruling is consistent with TTAB precedent

By Patricia Cotton

In Blackhorse v Pro-Football Inc, the US Patent and Trademark Office once again cancelled various registrations for trademarks used by the Washington Redskins football team as being disparaging to Native Americans. While this highly publicised decision may have taken some by surprise, the holding is in line with several other recent PTO decisions involving the Lanham Act’s prohibition on the registration of disparaging marks, decisions which received far less media attention and public comment.

On 18 June 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board issued a decision in the second proceeding brought by a group of Native Americans to cancel registrations for various ‘Redskins’ marks used by the National Football League and the Washington Redskins. The board held that the marks were disparaging to a substantial composite of Native Americans as of the registration date of each mark, in violation of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, which prohibits regis­tration of a mark that ‘may disparage’ persons or ‘bring them into contempt or disrepute’. As a result, the board ordered the cancellation of six Redskins trademark registrations owned by Pro-Football Inc, the parent company of the Washington Redskins, issued between 1967 and 1990.

This is not the first time that the board has considered whether a mark is disparaging to a particular group, nor is this the first time the board has considered whether these particular marks are disparaging to Native Americans…

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