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What it means that a judge has ordered the Redskins' trademark registration canceled


A federal judge has ordered the Patent and Trademark Office to cancel registration of the Washington Redskins' trademark, because the name is disparaging to Native Americans, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

It's the latest in the ongoing saga of an NFL team name that is also a dictionary-defined racial slur.

Judge Gerald Bruce Lee's 70-page ruling affirms last year's finding by an administrative appeal board. Last year, the board voted 2 to 1 that the term was offensive to Native Americans and therefore was not eligible under the Lanham Act for status in the federal trademark registry.

This doesn't mean the team will stop being called by its name

As Vox's Joseph Stromberg explained when the trademark registrations were first canceled, the decision just means the team has lost the registrations — not the actual trademarks. A person (or organization) gets a trademark by using it in commerce, like the NFL team does, and registration is simply an extra step that confers extra protections.

The main practical effect of losing the trademark registration is that it will make piracy tougher to deal with. "The Lanham Act gives the senior user of a mark the right to prevent others from using a mark that is likely to cause confusion, regardless of whether the mark is registered," Jeremy Sheff, an intellectual property law professor at St. John's, told Vox.

But it could possibly push the team to change its name

Stromberg argued that the more important issue here is whether all this might force team owner Daniel Snyder — who is famously opposed to changing the team's name — to finally do it. According to his analysis, the biggest significance of this decision is that it's an official government ratification of the idea that the term "redskins" is an ethnic slur. Added to mounting public pressure from civil rights groups, politicians, and even President Obama, it could just possibly be the event that pushes Snyder over the edge.

What next?

The team can appeal this decision, and a representative told the Washington Post that the team is reviewing the decision and considering its legal options.