Cancellation of Washington Redskins trademarks upheld

On July 8, 2015, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia upheld the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s previous ruling to cancel trademark registrations for the Washington Redskins of the National Football League finding that the trademarks are disparaging to Native Americans. See, Pro-Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse, et. al., No. 14-cv-01043-GBL-IDD, 2015 WL 4096277 at *5-6 (E.D. Va. July 8, 2015). Pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), trademarks that “may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, . . . or bring them into contempt, or disrepute” are ineligible for registration. The Redskins trademarks have been opposed for several years by Native American activists under the belief that the name is disparaging. Pro-Football, Inc., 2015 WL 4096277 at *3-4. The Washington Redskins argued that its First Amendment rights had been violated, but the District Court rejected this argument noting that the First Amendment does not apply to the government’s decision to refuse or cancel a trademark registration and analogizing the situation to Walker v. Tex. Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., 135 S.Ct 2239 (2015), in which the Supreme Court found that the First Amendment was not violated when the State of Texas banned specialty licenses plates bearing the Confederate flag. Id. at*8-17. Nonetheless, the legal battle does not appear to be over as the Washington Redskins still have the opportunity to appeal the decision to cancel its trademark and can still use REDSKINS as its team name.

Daniel Devine, Esq.
Santucci Priore, P.L.

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