American Indians Fighting to Cancel Washington Redskins Trademark

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Six American Indians filed a joint petition with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for cancellation of the Washington Redskins football organization (Pro-Football, Inc.) trademarked term “Redskins.”

A similar petition was filed in 1992 by a group of prominent Native American leaders. Both petitions call for the cancellation of the federal government’s registration of all related trademarks because their use is disparaging to Native Americans.


The petitions cite extensive evidence concerning the history of the use of the term “Redskin” and public perception of the objectionable term. Both sets of petitioners are represented pro bono by the law firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath.

“This public act of allegiance by Native American youth with the efforts of their elders to combat intolerance is truly heroic and reflects a courageous willingness on the part of these young people to protect Native peoples from slurs and vulgarities,” said Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne and Muscogee), lead petitioner in the original case and president
of The Morning Star Institute, a non-profit American Indian advocacy group.

“The term ‘Redskins’ is an extraordinarily insensitive and derogatory term and one that should not be granted exclusive trademark licenses by the federal government,” Harjo said.

“In concert with our original purpose, this new, younger group of Native Americans hopes this legal action will convince the Washington team owners and others that disparaging terms should be consigned to museums and history books.”

The original petition was brought in 1992 by a group of Native Americans from across the country. In 1999, the TTAB canceled the “Redskins” registrations on the grounds that the term was disparaging.

But Pro-Football, Inc. appealed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which in 2003 reversed the TTAB’s decision on disparagement.

Legal scholars believe that this case, and others that are similar and deal with professional sports teams, will eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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