Patent Office Rescinds Trademark Protection for Washington NFL Team's Nickname

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 18 2014 12:03 PM

Patent Office Rescinds Trademark Protection for Washington NFL Team's Nickname

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Team owner Daniel Snyder.

Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The United States Patent and Trademark Office has rescinded trademark protection for six uses of the Washington NFL franchise's team nickname, calling the name "disparaging to Native Americans."

The ruling, if it stands up to an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, would mean that the NFL no longer has the exclusive right to sell merchandise and apparel branded with those specific uses of the nickname. The team's caricature logo itself does not appear to have been covered in the ruling, though at least two of the trademarks covered involve a use of said logo. Since 31 of the league's teams split all merchandise revenue equally (the Cowboys' revenue is separate), this could harm the pocketbooks of other NFL owners. That will perhaps turn up the pressure on Washington owner Dan Snyder to change the nickname. That economic pressure won't ratchet up immediately, though: The team will retain its trademark protections while the case is on appeal. [Update, June 19, 2014: Other reports say the team could appeal to federal district court in Virginia instead of, or before, appealing to federal circuit court.]

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The trademark challenge, brought by five individuals represented by national law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, covered issues similar to those in a 1999 patent office ruling. The office also decided against the NFL in that case, but after a long appeals process a federal court ruled in 2008 that the "petitioners" who made the challenge did not have proper legal standing to file their petition because they had waited too long after becoming adults to challenge the trademark. Today's case involves new petitioners who were younger at the time of filing.

Sports law expert Michael McCann suggests on Twitter that the team may also have trademark rights via state laws. (States can issue their own trademarks.)

Ben Mathis-Lilley edits the Slatest. Follow @Slatest on Twitter.