In Blackhorse v. Pro-Football Inc., the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office once again canceled various registrations for trademarks used by the Washington Redskins football team as being disparaging to Native Americans. While this highly publicized decision may have taken some by surprise, the holding is in line with several other recent PTO decisions involving the Lanham Act’s prohibition on the registration of disparaging marks, decisions which received far less media attention and public comment.
On June 18, 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board issued a decision in the second proceeding brought by a group of Native Americans to cancel registrations for various “Redskins” marks used by the National Football League and the Washington Redskins. The board held that the marks were disparaging to a substantial composite of Native Americans as of the registration date of each mark, in violation of Section (a) of the Lanham Act, which prohibits registration of a mark that “may disparage” persons or “bring them into contempt or disrepute.”2 As a result, the board ordered the cancellation of six Redskins trademark registrations owned by Pro-Football Inc., the parent company of the Washington Redskins, issued between 1967 and 1990.
Originally published in Law360 on July 29, 2014.
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