Yesterday the Washington Redskins beat the Oakland Raiders and broke the Redskins’ nine game losing streak. And while everyone is talking about their win and ability to keep their fourth quarter lead, we would like to discuss their other big win. Specifically, we are referring to the Supreme Court’s rejection of an appeal from a Native American group who challenged the team’s trademarks as disparaging.
The lawsuit was first filed in 1992 and sought to cancel the Redskins’ name and logo which was adopted in 1933 when the team was in Boston. The United States Patent and Trademark Office issued the registration in 1967. Not surprisingly, the issue before the court was laches and the interpretation of the federal statute that allows the cancellation of a registration “at any time” if the trademark contains “matter which disparage . . . persons, living or dead . . . or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”
In 1999, the USPTO canceled the trademark, but the federal appeals court reversed on the grounds that the challenge was barred by laches. The Supreme Court did not comment on why they refused cert, but in so doing, ended the 17 year trademark dispute.