The Washington football team, as expected, filed a lawsuit today to overturn the U.S. trademark board’s June decision to strip the team of its federal trademark on the basis that the team’s name is disparaging to Native Americans.
The team filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against the five Native Americans who won the split U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s ruling.
“We believe that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ignored both federal case law and the weight of the evidence, and we look forward to having a federal court review this obviously flawed decision,” Bob Raskopf, a trademark attorney for the team, said in a press release. “The Washington [Pigskins] look forward to all of the issues in the case being heard in federal court under the federal rules of evidence.”
The complaint asks the federal court to, according to the press release, “consider the serious Constitutional issues that the Board lacked the authority to address.” The team argues that by “cancelling valuable, decades-old registrations,” the board violated the team’s First Amendment rights. It also alleges that the team has been “unfairly deprived of its valuable and long-held intellectual property rights in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”
The Washington Post explains that by filing the suit in federal court, the team can introduce new evidence to defend its name. This also gives the team a chance to appeal the decision if it loses the initial case. If the team had filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, it would have been limited in court to old and already reviewed dispositions and documents.
Amanda Blackhorse, one of the Native Americans the team is suing, said in a press release this afternoon that the appeal effort is “doomed to fail.”
Open any dictionary you want—Random House, Merriam-Webster, American Heritage—and you will find a usage note explaining that the term is a disparaging way to refer to Native Americans. The National Congress of American Indians, countless Native American tribes and individual Native Americans, have protested. President Obama, other political leaders, media figures and Americans of all backgrounds, beliefs and ages, have also spoken out that it is time for the team name to change. If people wouldn’t dare call a Native American a ‘redskin’ because they know it is offensive, how can an NFL football team have this name? We know that time is on our side for a change in the team’s name, and we are confident we will win once again at this stage of the litigation.
While the appeal process is ongoing, the team still holds the trademark to its name. Even if the team loses the appeal, it doesn’t mean that it will have to change its name. Rather, the team wouldn’t be able to sue anyone else in federal court to keep them from using the name.
Illustration by Carey Jordan