Opinion: Rebranding the Washington 'Redskins'
"Re-branding changes, according to Wikipedia, are "usually in an attempt to distance [the brand] from certain negative connotations of the previous branding." So, given the widespread meaning and understanding of "redskin" as "offensive slang" and that it is "used as a disparaging term for a Native American," given the pain the term has caused, and given that the team's helmets sport a Native American profile and not a certain variety of spud on them, why won't the Washington Redskins get on the re-branding bandwagon in our nation's capital? After all, even one of the attorneys at the same law firm hired by the team apparently has spoken out, read about the details here.

Instead, millions upon millions of dollars continue to be spent defending trademark registrations that never should have been granted in the first place under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, which forbids the federal registration of a trademark that "consists of or comprises matter" that "may disparage" persons or "brings them into contempt or disrepute".

John Welch over at the TTABlog did a thoughtful post earlier this week summarizing the history of the seventeen year old trademark case that I filed on behalf of seven prominent Native American leaders back in September 1992 (Harjo et al v. Pro-Football, Inc.), with the latest unfortunate ruling on appeal, here. Basically, in this latest and final ruling in the Harjo case, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the D.C. District Court's ruling that even the youngest of the Native American Petitioners, Mateo Romero, had slept on his rights and not pursued the cancellation action soon enough after reaching the age of majority. He was twenty-six when he brought the cancellation action in 1992 and one of the registrations he challenged had only issued two years earlier in 1990.

In 1999, when I left the case, the Harjo Petitioners had prevailed on the merits and successfully argued to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) that cancellation actions based on the "may disparage" language are rooted in "public policy" so a laches defense should not even be available or apply, here. Five years before ordering that the team's Redskins registrations be cancelled, the TTAB had wisely held in 1994 "there exists a broader interest -- an interest beyond the personal interest being asserted by the present petitioners -- in preventing a party from receiving the benefits of registration when a trial might show that [the team's] marks hold a substantial segment of the population up to public ridicule.""

Get the Story:
Steve Baird: "Re-Branding Madness in Washington" Overlooks Obvious: The Washington Redskins (Duets Blog 5/21)

D.C. Circuit Decision:
Pro-Football v. Harjo (May 15, 2009)

Related Stories:
Blog: 'Redskins' law firm fires outspoken lawyer (5/22)
Strange: Law firm spat over 'Redskins' court ruling (5/21)
Opinion: A shameful day in America with 'Redskins' (5/20)
Court sides with 'Redskins' in trademark dispute (5/18)