Redskins Win Trademark Fight, Federal Court Ends Activist Bid to Cancel Federal Registration of Team Name

AP Skins Helmet
The Associated Press

The Redskins most definitely did not, qualify for postseason play this year. Nonetheless, the Redskins most definitely just did, just win their most significant postseason victory in 26 years.

On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated prior court decisions which had canceled the Redskins federal trademark. That decision, effectively ended a legal fight that has raged over the trademark of the Redskins team name, for nearly a generation.

The Redskins trademark, which the team has argued does not disparage Native Americans, was found to be disparaging by a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s appeals board in 2014 and by a district court judge in 2015.

While the Fourth Circuit’s ruling did not address the issue of disparagement, it did address the constitutionality of the statute the PTO operated under.

Lisa Blatt, the lawyer who argued the Redskins case, said via email: “The conclusion of one district court judge and two PTO officials is not a cultural referendum. Because the statute the PTO acted under was unconstitutional, the Fourth Circuit did not have the occasion to rule on the Team’s appeal. We are convinced that had they ruled, they would have rejected the PTO’s and trial judge’s conclusion.”

Blatt also cited “overwhelming evidence” from polling, which says that a vast majority of Native Americans do not consider the Redskins name to be disparaging.

Not surprisingly, Jesse Witten, who represented the Blackhorse petitioners who brought the case against the Redskins, saw things differently.

“While the litigation outcome is not what we were hoping for, my clients feel that they have won. Nothing in the Supreme Court’s opinion last summer or in today’s opinion by the Fourth Circuit undermines the conclusion reached by both the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board and the U.S. District Court that the team’s marks may disparage Native Americans.

According to USA Today, “The Fourth Circuit’s decision has been inevitable since June, when the Supreme Court decided in another case that the disparagement clause of the Lanham Act is unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. The Blackhorse case depended on that section of the 1946 law.”

Amanda Blackhorse, who led the Blackhorse petition, told USA Today Sports, “We said the term ‘Redskins’ is disparaging and the courts agreed with us. It’s just that now the Supreme Court says it’s OK to register a disparaging term.”

The courts may agree with her, 90% of her fellow Native Americans do not.