Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc.: Legal Battle Continues Over Washington Redskins Name and Logo


It's six-years and counting for the legal battle between American Indian petitioners and the Washington Redskins. Today, the petitioners are planning to file papers asking federal authorities to strike down several of the franchise's trademark registrations for "Redskins" on the firm grounds that the name is a racial slur.

The Washington Post reports that the case, Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., is essentially symbolic, with the outcome unlikely to effect the Redskins as "trademark officials do not have the authority to halt the sale of goods containing Redskins images or logos, nor can they order the team to pay damages to the petitioners," the Post's Catherine Ho writes. "However, having an unregistered trademark could make it harder for the Redskins to prevent trademark infringers from selling and importing knockoff paraphernalia."

The case involves six disputed trademark registrations, which includes the team's cheerleaders, the Redskinettes, as well as the team's depiction of American Indian man used on their helmets.

Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc. was initially filed in 2006 before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which Ho points out is part of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The case was put on a four-year hold, between 2006-2010 while a separate but similar case, Pro-Football, Inc. v. Harjo, went through the federal court system.

"In Harjo, first filed in 1992, a federal judge ruled in favor of the team in 2003, finding there was not enough evidence to show the Redskins name was so insulting that it could not be protected by a trademark," Ho writes. "The judge also found that the Native American activists who filed the complaint had waited too long to challenge the trademarks. A federal court of appeals upheld that decision in 2009."

The trial brief filed today is a summary of the petitioners' position, based on interviews with Native historians and linguists. The Redskins' attorneys will have to file a brief in response.

One wonders if those who support the petitioner's cause might do as the married couple down in Atlanta did when they began making t-shirts that read "Atlanta Barves," purposely misspelling the Braves team name. They were quickly swamped by Major League Baseball with cease and desist letters and had to shut down their tiny operation. Still, what American Indian or Native supporter wouldn't welcome a t-shirt that read "Washington Bedskins" with the team's logo transformed into linens?

Just a thought.