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Consequences of the Redskins Disparaging Mascot

A trademark is defined as a recognizable sign, design or expression which identifies products or services of a particular source from those of others. A trademark will not lose the rights that accompany it, so long as the owner is continuously using the mark, however, the Trademark Trial and Appeal board has the ability to cancel trademark registrations under certain circumstances.

While the usage of Native American symbols as mascots has been prevalent in mainstream sports, certain groups have pushed for their widespread removal. For instance, schools such as the University of Illinois (Illini) and Bradley (Braves) have gone as far as removing their physical mascots, while solely maintaining the name. Other schools including Stanford University and Miami (Ohio) University have changed their school mascot completely, going from the Indians to the Cardinal in 1972 and from the Redskins to the Redhawks in 1997, respectively. However, there is one sports team that remains resistant to change, the Washington Redskins.

Recently, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled that the Washington Redskins trademark of their team name and mascot is no longer protected. The court held that because the trademark is disparaging, it cannot be protected. However, there is a misconception that the Redskins have lost their trademark rights, when in fact, all they have lost is the federal registration of their trademark, which isn’t necessary for protection.

Listening to the media may lead you to believe that they have lost their ability to enforce their right to prevent others from using the Redskin logo. However, the federal registration really only provides a presumption of ownership and validity in the case that the Redskins have to go to court. Therefore, the team may still prevent others from using the mark.

So what is in store for this present case? Well, most likely, the decision will be overturned once it reaches federal court. The precedent for this case is extremely strong, as this exact scenario occurred in 1999, where the USPTO stripped the federal registration before the federal court overruled the decision. Therefore, while the trademark may continue to be racially insensitive, it is unlikely any true shortcomings will befall the Washington Redskins.