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Jay Gruden, Daniel Snyder
Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden, left, talks with owner Daniel Snyder before an NFL football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Redskins in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

NFL’s Redskins can sue American Indians to protect trademark

The National Football League’s Washington Redskins can sue a group of American Indians for seeking to block trademark protection for its name, which has been criticized as offensive.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in Alexandria, Virginia, Tuesday denied a request to dismiss the case. Throwing out the complaint would deprive the team of the opportunity to review the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s decision to cancel the mark as disparaging, Lee said in his ruling.

“Defendants show no reason why their interest would cease to exist considering reversal of the TTAB’s cancellation of the Redskins marks would subject defendants to the very harm they sought to eliminate by filing the petition,” Lee wrote.

The ruling is the latest in a 22-year dispute over a brand estimated by Forbes to be worth $145 million. The board’s decision to cancel six trademarks, if left intact by the court, would make it harder for the team to enforce rights to its name and protect revenue associated with it. The franchise ranked third in the NFL in August, with a valuation of $1.7 billion, according to Forbes.

The team sued in August seeking to reverse the ruling that its name was no longer entitled to federal trademark protection. Team owner Daniel Snyder has said the name was intended to honor Native Americans and he won’t change it.

“We are disappointed by the court’s legal ruling on our motion to dismiss, but our Native American clients remain confident that we will ultimately prevail in this case,” Jeffrey Lopez of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP in Washington, an attorney for the group opposing the name, said in an e-mail.

Robert Raskopf, a lawyer for the team, didn’t immediately return a phone call and e-mail seeking comment on the decision.

A group of American Indians first petitioned the trademark office in 1992 to cancel the team’s marks because they were scandalous.

Both sides won subsequent court rulings and reversals, with the case resuming in March 2010 after the U.S. Supreme Court denied review, according to Lee’s opinion. The federal board issued its most recent cancellation decision in June, triggering the team’s lawsuit.

The case is Pro-Football Inc. v. Blackhorse, 14-cv-01043, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).

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