The Redskins Continue to Fight for the Trademark Use of its Brand

washington redskins trademarkRecently, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the NFL’s Washington Redskins to reverse a ruling that canceled the team’s trademarks. According to Yahoo Sports, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled the Redskins’ registered trademark images were to be canceled because they violated Section 2(a) of the Lanham Trademark Act of 1946 which states that the trademark may “disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute.”

Specifically, the law is intended to ban registered trademarks deemed offensive – in this case, the Redskins logo disparages Native Americans. The appeal was particularly interesting because the NFL team requested the Supreme Court hear the case prior to a federal appeals court’s decision.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court recently announced it will hear a similar case involving The Slants, an Asian American band that was denied trademark due to the offensive nature of its name. Sports Illustrated reported this decision by the Court prompted the Redskins to appeal to the high court to hear both cases together. If the Court were to rule in favor of The Slants, and conclude that there was a violation of the band’s First Amendment rights by the law, it would also be a win for the Redskins’ case.

The Redskins’ case is similar to The Slants

The recent background of the case comes from the fact that in 2015, a federal judge upheld the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s 2014 decision against the Redskins. Yahoo Sports noted this led the Redskins to form alliances with various free speech activist groups, one of which included The Slants.

As an Asian American band led by Simon Tam, the group wants to trademark the use of “slants”, which is a slang term for Asians. So far, Tam has been successful in his appeals as he won a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that ruled banning attempts to trademark “slants” was in direct violation of First Amendment rights. At which point, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office requested the Supreme Court hear the case.

In short, if the Supreme Court upholds the federal appeals court’s decision for The Slants, it will cancel out the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s previous decision on the Redskins.

The potential ramifications of losing its brand

The team is particularly adamant about this case due to the potential financial ramifications. Bloomberg BNA found that if the Redskins lost rights to their brand, it could cost the team upwards of $200 million. Currently, the Redskins rank as the fifth most profitable brand in the NFL among 32 teams at $2.95 billion. However, only $214 million of that value stems from the brand, which could mean that the team would effectively take a substantial hit to its brand revenue without the Redskins name.

Do you have any questions? Would you like to discuss the matter further? If so, please contact me, Anthony Caruso, at 201-806-3364.

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Anthony R. Caruso is a business transactional attorney in New York and New Jersey with experience in structuring, negotiation and completion of legal deals involving business, entrepreneurs, athletes and performers.

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