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2 July 2014Trademarks

USPTO received “no” Redskins complaints

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) cancelled disparaging and offensive trademarks belonging to the Washington Redskins NFL team despite not receiving any public complaints, figures have shown.

The office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) cancelled six trademarks, all variations of the word “redskin”, after ruling they were offensive to Native Americans.

The lawsuit was brought against the NFL team by a group of Native Americans, including Oneida Indian Nation.

A freedom of information request has now shown that there was no record of any other formal complaints about the American football team’s name in the build up to the decision.

According to The Washington Times, which submitted the request, it asked for any communications from Congress or the public.

The request ultimately produced 13 pages of records.

The newspaper said six of the pages were a handwritten letter from a man in Texas, whose position on the name’s controversy “was not clear”.

Another writer congratulated the TTAB for making the decision, although both letters were sent after the ruling.

In the build up to the TTAB’s decision, two other trademark applications containing the words ‘Redskin’ and ‘Redskins’ were rejected after the USPTO acknowledged that Redskin was a “disparaging” term and a racial slur.

Under US law, whether a trademark should be considered offensive or inappropriate must be based on the meaning of the word at the time of its registration.

Despite the trademarks being granted between 1967 and 1990, the TTAB said the term ‘Redskin’ was still disparaging to a “substantial” portion of Native Americans.

“Beginning in 1966 and continuing to 1990, usage labels in dictionaries indicating the term ‘Redskin’ to be offensive, disparaging, contemptuous or not preferred, first appear and then grow in number,” the TTAB’s opinion said.

The NFL team is planning to appeal against the decision.

The loss of the trademarks does not mean the team is banned from using the name but it may find it harder to enforce its rights and stop others from using the name.

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