Lawyers for the Washington Redskins football team filed an appeal on August 14 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia. Their goal is to overturn a recent decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that cancelled the team’s trademarks on the basis that the team’s name is disparaging.
Indian country had widely celebrated the June 18 trademark revocation, although many saw it as a symbolic victory, as the team could continue to use its name while it appealed the decision.
If the team’s new appeal is unsuccessful in Virginia, it can still appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. And even if the team ultimately loses its case in both federal courts, it could still attempt to protect its trademarks by turning to state laws.
In filing the appeal, team lawyers said the trademark office’s decision was mistaken.
“We believe that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board [TTAB] ignored both federal case law and the weight of the evidence, and we look forward to having a federal court review this obviously flawed decision,” Bob Raskopf, a trademark lawyer for the team, said in a statement, first reported by The Washington Post.
The team’s lawyers have said they plan to introduce new evidence that will show the name is not disparaging.
Lawyers for Amanda Blackhorse and several other Native Americans who have led the most recent battle against the team’s trademarks said they were not surprised by the filing.
“We were expecting the team to file this challenge to the TTAB decision,” Jesse Witten, a lawyer with Drinker Biddle, told Indian Country Today Media Network. “We are ready.”
Blackhorse said in a statement that the team would not be successful.
“I understand that The Washington R*dsk*ns have sued me today in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, seeking to reverse the recent decision of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board cancelling six of the team’s existing trademark registrations,” she said. “This effort is doomed to fail, but if they want to prolong this litigation which has already gone on for 22 years, I guess they have that prerogative.”
Blackhorse noted that the June decision by the trademark office was the second time it had found that the team’s trademarks were not eligible for registration under federal trademark law because they contain content that disparages Native Americans. She also noted that at least 12 times since 1992 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has refused to grant new registrations with the offensive word in them because word is disparaging.
“Open any dictionary you want – Random House, Merriam-Webster, American Heritage – and you will find a usage note explaining that the term is a disparaging way to refer to Native Americans,” Blackhorse added. “The National Congress of American Indians [NCAI], countless Native American tribes and individual Native Americans, have protested. President Obama, other political leaders, media figures and Americans of all backgrounds, beliefs and ages, have also spoken out that it is time for the team name to change.”
Native leaders with the Change the Mascot Campaign, led by NCAI and the Oneida Indian Nation, said they were disappointed that the team and its owner, Daniel Snyder, have chosen to continue to fight to keep the name.
“The National Football League claims it has a no-tolerance policy when it comes to racism, but by continuing to fight a court battle defending its promotion of a dictionary-defined racial slur, the league makes clear it is a proud purveyor of bigotry against Native Americans,” the campaigns leaders, Jackie Johnson Pata and Ray Halbritter, said in a joint statement. “If the league genuinely cared about equality, civility and mutual respect, then it would stand on the right side of history with Native American organizations, civil rights groups, religious leaders, sports icons, and Members of Congress from both parties who have called for Washington’s team to change its name. It would not continue deploying its army of lawyers to clog the courts with increasingly desperate defenses of a racial epithet.”
Despite the new challenge, Blackhorse said that she and her Native partners “are confident we will win once again at this stage of the litigation.”