The U.S. Patent Office ruled today that the Washington Washington Football Team nickname is “disparaging of Native Americans” and that the team’s federal trademarks for the name must be canceled.
The 2-1 ruling comes after a campaign to change the name that has gained momentum over the past year. The team doesn’t immediately lose trademark protection and is allowed to retain it during an appeal.
Washington Football Team owner Daniel Snyder has refused to change the team’s name, citing tradition, but there has been growing pressure including statements in recent months from President Barack Obama, lawmakers of both parties and civil rights groups.
The decision means that the team can continue to use the Washington Football Team name, but it would lose a significant portion of its ability to protect its financial interests. If others printed the name on sweatshirts, apparel, or other team material, it becomes more difficult to go after people who use it without permission.
“The recognition that this racial designation based on skin color is disparaging to Native Americans is also demonstrated by the near complete drop-off in usage of Washington Football Team’s as a reference to Native Americans beginning in the 1960’s,” Administrative Trademark Judge Karen Kuhlke wrote in her conclusion.
Kuhlke wrote that the record established that “at a minimum” 30 percent of Native Americans found the word Washington Football Team offensive, constituting a significant enough portion of the population (called a substantial composite) to cancel the trademarks. A substantial composite, she wrote, “need not be a majority of the referenced group.”
“Respondent has introduced evidence that some in the Native American
community do not find the term ‘Redskin’ disparaging when it is used in connection with professional football. While this may reveal differing opinions within the community, it does not negate the opinions of those who find it disparaging,” Kuhlke wrote.
The full decision document is below.
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