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Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Cancels Washington NFL Team’s Trademark Registrations

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled in favor of the petitioners in Blackhorse v. Pro -Football, Inc,  a landmark case filed in 2006 on behalf of five Native Americans seeking to cancel trademark registrations of the “Washington Redskins” because the use of the term “redskins” disparages Native Americans.    The case is the culmination and vindication of a multi-decade effort by Native Americans and others who object to the team’s name as derogatory and offensive.

“We are extraordinarily gratified to have prevailed in this case,” said Alfred W.  Putnam, Jr.  “The dedication and professionalism of our attorneys and the determination of our clients have resulted in a milestone victory that will serve as an historic precedent,” Putnam said.

The five petitioners, Amanda Blackhorse, Phillip Glover, Marcus Briggs-Cloud, Jillian Pappan and Courtney Tsotigh, came together eight years ago to seek the cancellation of six different trademarks associated with the Washington NFL team.  The federal trademark law does not permit registration of trademarks that “may disparage” individuals or groups or “bring them into contempt or disrepute.”  

“The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with our clients that the team’s name and trademarks disparage Native Americans.  The Board ruled that the Trademark Office should never have registered these trademarks in the first place,” said Jesse Witten, the lead litigator in this case.  “We presented a wide variety of evidence – including dictionary definitions and other reference works, newspaper clippings, movie clips, scholarly articles, expert linguist testimony, and evidence of the historic opposition by Native American groups – to demonstrate that the word ‘redskin’ is an ethnic slur.”  Witten added.  “This victory was a long time coming and reflects the hard work of many attorneys at our firm.”

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About this Author

Jesse Witten, Drinker Biddle Law Firm, Washington DC, Healthcare and Litigation Attorney
Partner

Jesse A. Witten defends health care providers, pharmaceutical manufactures and other clients in the health industry against fraud and abuse matters in government investigations and litigation, particularly False Claims Act matters. Jesse also assists clients in internal corporate investigations and self-disclosures to the government of regulatory violations and Medicare/Medicaid overpayment. He counsels clients on compliance with Anti-Kickback Statute and Stark Law and laws governing the sale and marketing of medical devices and pharmaceutical products...

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