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Judge allows NFL team lawsuit against young Native activists

YouTube: "Who Will Dan Snyder Bully Next?" Asks New Change the Mascot Ad

The Washington NFL team can sue a group of young Native activists, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

In Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc., the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board canceled six of the team's trademarks because they are disparaging to Native people. That prompted the team to sue six Native activists in federal court in Virginia.

The logo for the Change the Mascot campaign

The activists disputed the suit, saying the team's complaints lie with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Judge Gerald Bruce Lee disagreed and said the activists -- who filed the petition to strike down the marks -- have a "direct stake" in the outcome of any proceedings in the case.

"The court finds that defendants' claim of disparagement before the TTAB constitutes a direct and personal stake in the outcome of the appeal before this court," Lee wrote in the 17-page decision. "Defendants have not provided a sufficient reason why they should not be considered parties of interest in this case. Merely pointing out that defendants have not used the registered marks and have no legal or economic interest in the marks does not absolve them of any interest in the case."

The team previously sued a different group of Native activists after the TTAB struck down the same marks back in 1999. That case, however, went through the federal court in Washington, D.C.

The judge who handled the case eventually ruled that Suzan Shown Harjo, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Monday, and her fellow activists waited too long to challenge the trademarks.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, left the door open for a new challenge from people who weren't alive when the trademarks were first registered in 1967. The petitioners in Blackhorse represent a new generation of Native activists who oppose the continued use of a racial slur in professional sports.

Get the Story:
Judge allows Redskins to go forward with name case (AP 11/25)
NFL’s Redskins can sue American Indians to protect trademark (Bloomberg News 11/26)
As protest of Washington team name shifts to Levi’s Stadium, Yolo tribe’s ad provides support (The Sacramento Bee 11/24)

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