And so it begins. On Wednesday morning, the United States Patent and Trademark Office took the first major step in forcing the Washington Redskins to change their team name. The Office canceled the Redskins’ trademark registration, which is the beginning of the process for the club to find a new mascot that isn’t “disparaging” to Native Americans.
ThinkProgress first reported the news, including the text of the ruling by Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. The entire text can be found in their initial report, but the major points are below:
“We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered.”
These “respective times” to which the board referred are the six times the team registered/renews its trademark over the past 50 years. They also reported that 39 percent of Native Americans polled found the term redskins to be “disparaging” and ruled that to be a “substantial composite,” which is what is required for a trademark to lose its validity.
Now the Redskins will likely appeal but if the cancellation of their trademarked name holds up, they will lose millions of dollars in merchandising because anyone anywhere will be able to sell merchandise with the team’s name and logo on it without giving the franchise a cent. So basically, the Redskins will be forced to change their name to something that is legitimately trademarked in order to keep making money at the NFL level.
Of course, this is only the beginning. This landmark decision in Blackhorse v. Pro Football Inc will likely spread to other major sports, putting the team names of the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Blackhawks and others in jeopardy. We could see a very different sports landscape in the very near future because of this ruling.