WASHINGTON - A district court judgment has reinstated the trademark protections of the Washington Redskins football franchise.
The Oct. 1 summary judgment overrules a unanimous 1999 decision of the federal Trial Trademark and Appeal Board that found the team name and logo disparaging to Native Americans. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, stated that the board had relied on linguistic and survey evidence only for its findings of fact as to disparagement. She characterized the findings as "very limited," and ruled them inadequate to cancel the trademark protections of the team's name, logo and related properties.
Kollar-Kotelly also found that too much time has passed to prove the trademarks were disparaging in 1967, when they were registered as trademarks.
Together the trademarks protect a multi-million annual revenue stream from hats, t-shirts and other paraphernalia that bear the trademarked name and images. This revenue stream, rather than the football team's name, had been put at risk by the TTAB's ruling. The franchise retained the trademarks during its appeal of the board's decision. A judgment against it would have opened the door to lawsuits from other vendors hoping to capitalize on the football team's popularity in the nation's capitol.
Spokespersons for the franchise repeated its regular assertion that the team name honors Native Americans.
Numerous Native organizations and individuals have voiced strong support for the seven notables, headed in the nation's capitol by Suzan Shown Harjo, president of Morning Star Institute and a columnist for Indian Country Today, who brought the action before the board and stood as defendants in the appeal. The National Congress of American Indians immediately condemned the decision. NCAI President Tex Hall termed it "a victory of economic interests over the deep desire for racial healing in this nation."
Indian Country Today considers the use of sports names, symbols, mascots and logos depicting American Indians by non-Indian teams and organizations as being offensive. Its policy states: "? the name 'Redskins' is a derogatory term that for at least 300 years has been used to insult, ridicule, deride, and generally cast prejudice and hate upon American Indian peoples. The term has been used and continues to be used as a racial epithet."
According to Michael Lindsey, one of the defendants' lawyers for the case, it is likely that an appeal will be brought about by Harjo and the other petitioners.