Appeals Court Sides With Team in Suit Challenging Trademark

Del Quentin Wilber, Washington Post, May 16, 2009

A federal appeals court yesterday handed the Washington Redskins another victory in their long-running legal dispute with Native American activists over the team’s name.

The appeals court did not address whether the name was offensive but upheld a federal judge’s ruling last year that a Native American man had waited too long to challenge six Redskins trademarks.

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Attorneys for the National Football League franchise say the name is a sign of honor but are also fighting to protect millions of dollars’ worth of sales of Redskins merchandise. If the team had lost in court, it could have continued to use the name on Redskins paraphernalia but would have faced a tougher time preventing merchants from infringing on its trademarks.

The dispute started in 1992, when seven Native American activists challenged the trademarks in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In 1999, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board sided with the activists, ruling that the team had no right to trademark the name. Pro-Football Inc., the team’s corporate owner, appealed to federal court.

In 2003, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly sided with the team, ruling that the activists had not produced enough evidence to show the name was so insulting that it could not be protected by a trademark. The judge also found that the activists had waited too long to file their challenge. An appeals court in 2005 asked the judge to revisit the delay issue because one activist, Mateo Romero, might have legal standing. He was born in 1966.

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The judge found that the delay unfairly penalized the Redskins, who invested millions of dollars marketing the team during that eight-year span.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit yesterday upheld Kollar-Kotelly’s decision.

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