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U.S. Patent Office cancels trademarks of NFL’s Redskins

by Ian Simpson, Reuters

June 18, 2014 | 12:31 pm

<em>Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III scrambles against the Philadelphia Eagles' defense during the second half of their NFL football game in Landover, Maryland in this file photo from September 9, 2013. Credit, Reuters/Gary Cameron</em>

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III scrambles against the Philadelphia Eagles' defense during the second half of their NFL football game in Landover, Maryland in this file photo from September 9, 2013. Credit, Reuters/Gary Cameron

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the federal trademarks for the National Football League's Washington Redskins because they disparage Native Americans, the agency said on Wednesday.

The decision by a Patent Office administrative tribunal followed years of criticism of the Washington club by Native Americans and others who say the name is a slur.

Five Native Americans had petitioned to overturn six Redskins trademarks, and evidence showed that "Redskins" was disparaging of Native Americans, the Patent Office said in a statement.

"Thus, the federal registrations for the 'Redskins' trademarks involved in this proceeding must be canceled," the agency said.

The decision can be reviewed by a federal court. The ruling does not mean that the trademarks can no longer be used by the NFL club, only that they are no longer registered, the statement said.

A Redskins spokesman could not be reached immediately for comment.

Team owner Daniel Snyder has defied calls for 14 years to change the club's name and logo, which dates from the 1930s. The franchise has come under increasing fire over the name.

Half the U.S. Senate, all of them Democrats, last month urged the NFL to endorse a name change for the franchise. Senator Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat whose name led the letter, called the ruling a "landmark decision."

“I hope that all the business decisions at the team will be made with the understanding that this is no longer a business case and we will get off of this slur of a name that we need to change,” she said on the Senate floor.

President Barack Obama also has weighed in, saying before the ruling that if he owned the team he would consider changing the name.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in January that most football fans and Americans supported the Redskins keeping their name.

The named petitioner in the case, Blackhorse v. Pro Football Inc, is Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo psychiatric social worker.

In a USA Today profile this year, Blackhorse said she had considered what she might say to Snyder if she ever met him.

“I’d ask him, ‘Would you dare call me a redskin, right here, to my face?’” she said. “And I suspect that, no, he would not do that.”

The plaintiffs had largely made the same argument as those who filed a trademark suit in 1992. The Patent Office canceled the trademarks in 1999, but the decision was overturned on appeal.

A judge ruled in that case that the petitioners had waited too long to assert their rights after the first Redskins' trademark was issued in 1967.

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