The Catholic University of America



Professor Megan La Belle explains that while the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has found that the Redskins name meets its legal criteria of "disparaging," it cannot compel Washington's football team to stop using it.


Student Organization Leads Discussion on
Trademark Ruling for Washington Redskins


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The Washington Redskins football team’s resistance to changing its name appeared to have been sacked on June 18, when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) cancelled six federal registrations for trademarks that include the term “Redskins,” a name deemed offensive by many Native Americans and others across the country.   

The decision was presented by most media as a significant backslap by the federal government to the organization and its owner, Daniel Snyder. But in reality, the trademark action may bring little real pressure on the team to find a new moniker.
Catholic University’s Intellectual Property Law Students Association (IPLSA) and Sports and Entertainment Law Society (SELS) outlined the scope of the USPTO ruling before a crowded room of interested students on Sept. 9 during a presentation titled “Replacement Ref or Seasoned NFL Official: Examining How the PTO Ruled the Washington Redskins Morally Offsides.”
The faculty’s intellectual property professors, Megan La Belle and Elizabeth Winston, led the discussion, explaining the USPTO’s ability to cancel offensive trademarks. Daniel Kane, president of IPLSA, described the Washington Redskins’ most-recent court challenge, Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., and invited comments from his fellow students afterward.
The hour-long talk covered some of the legal history of the successful challenge to federal registration of the Redskins name, a joint petition that was filed by five Native Americans. While the team cannot in the future use the federal registration ® symbol nor benefit from some of the protections it confers, the decision does not require the Washington D.C. professional football team to change its name or stop using the trademarks at issue in this case.
The USPTO determines only whether a mark can be officially registered, not whether it can be used.
During the open forum that followed, most students expressed consternation at the unwillingness of the Redskins to consider a change of name. Fifty United States senators have gone on record in opposition to it, and even the Washington Post is split on the issue. Its sports columnists may continue to use the name, but the paper’s editorial board no longer will.
Advocates for a name change believe that a critical mass of public opinion is building that will eventually force the team to call itself something else. Professor Winston noted, however, that more than 60 high schools still use Redskins as their team name, and three of them are majority Native American, including at least one on a Navajo reservation.  
If Washington’s football team eventually does capitulate to the pressure, what should the new name be? Students had plenty of ideas, including:
  • Washington Commuters
  • Washington 'Skins
  • Washington Congressmen
  • Washington Warriors
  • Washington Insiders