The ongoing controversy about the Washington Redskins football trademark may ultimately be resolved through legislation, rather than the court system.
A bill currently pending in the U.S. House would cancel the “Redskin” trademark registration.
The legislation, introduced by Del. Eni Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa, would call for the cancellation of all federal registrations of trademarks that use the term “redskin” in reference to Native Americans.
In addition, it would ban the registration of future trademarks that use the term. The bill has co-sponsors from both parties.
At the same time, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (TTAB) is considering a case also claiming that the trademark is offensive to Native Americans. The suit is grounded in the Trademark Act’s prohibitions against the registration of trademarks that are immoral, scandalous, or generally offensives to a relevant segment of the population.
The case was originally filed in 1992 and resulted in the cancellation of the Washington Redskins’ trademarks. However, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia overturned the decision, in large part because the plaintiffs waited too long to file their challenge.
This is probably the most famous “offensive” trademark that was registered. Normally, the USPTO is required by law not to register certain types of marks. Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. 1052(a), is an absolute bar to the registration of immoral or scandalous matter on either the Principal Register or the Supplemental Register.
Basically, this is a judgement call that can be overcome for some marks, but not for others. In this case the Washington Redskins have won their days in court, hence the reason for the proposed legislation.
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