US Patent Office cancels Washington Redskins trademark

by Robert MACPHERSON, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jun 19 2014 09:21 AM | Updated as of Jun 19 2014 05:21 PM

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III passes against the Baltimore Ravens in the second half of their NFL football game in Landover, Maryland in this file photo from December 9, 2012. Photo by Gary Cameron, Reuters.

WASHINGTON - The US Patent and Trademark Office on Wednesday moved to cancel the federal registration of the Washington Redskins' name after it agreed that it is "disparaging of Native Americans."

The decision -- which the American football team intends to appeal -- is a victory for American Indians and their supporters for whom "redskins" is a racially charged word.

In a statement, the Patent Office said five Native American petitioners had "met their burden to establish that the term 'Redskins' was disparaging of Native Americans, when used in relation to professional football services."

While the team could still keep using the name, cancelation would result in the loss of protection from copyright infringement and counterfeiting that comes with federal registration.

- Appeal on horizon -

The Redskins' trademark attorney Bob Raskopf said the team would "of course" appeal the decision just as it did successfully back in 2003.

"We are confident we will prevail once again," said Raskopf in a statement from Ashburn, Virginia, where the team is holding a week-long pre-season mini training camp.

He added: "The registrations will remain effective while the case is on appeal."

Dan Snyder, owner of the National Football League (NFL) franchise, has been adamant about retaining the name despite a growing national campaign spearheaded by the Oneida tribe in upstate New York.

"If the most basic sense of morality, decency and civility has not yet convinced the Washington team and the NFL to stop using this hateful slur, then hopefully today's patent ruling will," said Oneida representative Ray Halbritter.

That's because "it imperils the ability of the team's billionaire owner to keep profiting off the denigration and dehumanization of Native Americans," Halbritter said in an email to AFP.

The long-simmering issue gained national attention in October when President Barack Obama, on a Sunday political talk show, said he'd consider renaming the Redskins if he was the team owner.

- Divisive issue -

The Redskins are easily the number-one professional sports team in the US capital, with an avid and loyal following that cuts across socio-economic, racial and partisan lines.

But the name issue is divisive.

On Capitol Hill, 49 members of the 100-strong Senate signed an open letter to Snyder urging him to rename the team.

"It's extremely important to Native Americans all over the country that they no longer use this name," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from Nevada, home to several Native American nations.

"Daniel Snyder says it's about tradition. I ask what tradition, the tradition of racism? It's all that that name leaves in its wake."

But on the team's Facebook page, news of its plans to appeal the decision attracted more than 3,000 "likes" within an hour of appearing on the social networking website.

"I'm less concerned about the name and more concerned that the US Patent Office just attempted to render a $2 billion dollar trademark worthless with the stroke of a pen," wrote Brent Mekosh, an Arizona financial advisor, on the Facebook page.

"Even those who don't like the name should be chilled by this."

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