(WASHINGTON) — What’s going to happen to the Washington Redskins now that the U.S. Patent and Trademark office said the team’s federal trademarks will be canceled?
The government agency ruled 2-1 Wednesday, following a petition by five Native Americans, that the team’s name is “disparaging of Native Americans.”
The ruling does not mean the team can no longer call itself the Washington Redskins — but it does remove certain protections, meaning anyone could potentially make money now selling merchandise with the team’s name.
Robert Tuchman, president of sports and marketing firm Goviva, called the decision “much bigger then Redskins.”
“If they are forced to change what does that mean for the Chicago Blackhawks and other teams that are in the same boat?” he said.
An NFL spokesman declined to comment and referred ABC News to the statement from the Washington Redskins’ attorney.
Lawyers, however, have differing opinions about whether your local T-shirt company can now print and sell Redskins gear.
“This decision does not mean that the Redskins trademark is no longer enforceable, or that third parties will now be able to sell Redskins merchandise,” said Monica Riva Talley, a trademark attorney not involved in this dispute.
Riva Talley said the team still owns enforceable “common law” trademark rights in the name based on its many decades of use.
“This decision does not mean that the Redskins trademark is no longer enforceable, or that third parties will now be able to sell Redskins merchandise,” Monica Riva Talley, a trademark attorney not involved in this dispute, told ABC News.
But even Riva Talley admits the decision may have a domino-effect in the dispute over the team’s name and logo, which Native American groups have called racist.
“What it may do is help sway public opinion as to whether a sports team, much less one located in the nation’s capital, should use a term found to disparage a segment of the population,” she said.
Bob Raskopf, trademark attorney for the Washington Redskins, said in a statement: “We’ve seen this story before. And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo.”
Raskopf is referring to a similar decision from the USPTO back in 1999. That decision was overturned in 2003, in large part due to a technicality. The courts decided that the plaintiffs should have filed their complaint following the Redskins’ nickname registration in 1967.
Raskopf said the team is “confident” that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s ruling will be overturned on appeal.
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