May 14, 2014

Disparagement Ruling May Impact Washington Redskins’ Trademark

by Guest Blogger

I promised myself I was going to wait a few weeks before writing another post about rebranding in professional sports or the NFL. I promised. But promises are made to be cliché.

On Tuesday, the Federal Circuit affirmed an earlier ruling by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board that a blogger could not register the trademark "Stop Islamization of America" because it could be disparaging to American Muslims. The ruling was based on a law that allows the United States Patent and Trademark Office to refuse to register a trademark that disparages a "substantial composite" of a group. The Federal Circuit reasoned that the trademark, which suggests an association between "peaceful political Islamization" and terrorism, would offend many Muslims.

This ruling may directly impact the ongoing trademark saga related to the Washington Redskins. Indeed, the USPTO has been reviewing the Redskins' trademark for almost eight years. Recently, the USPTO refused to register the mark "Washington Redskin Potatoes" because it would be disparaging to Native American Indians. In so ruling, the USPTO stated that "a substantial composite of Native American Indians find the current use of 'Redskins' in conjunction with football disparaging." Whether the USPTO will void the Redskins' trademark remains to be seen, but Tuesday's decision by the Federal Circuit may embolden the USPTO to act, especially considering popular opinion seems to be squarely in favor of those opposed to continued use of the name.

Of course, this issue would disappear if Redskins' owner Dan Synder would rebrand the team. Many pundits, including ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell, believe that the cost to Dan Snyder and the NFL of changing the team's name would be "a wash." Others argue that Dan Snyder might actually profit from a name change because people would rush to purchase the remaining inventory of Redskins' merchandise and merchandise bearing the team's new name. Nonetheless, Snyder remains steadfast for the time being that he will not change the name.

That said, the league recognizes that it is under fire. Keith Olbermann hot take alert!

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