Patent Office Didn’t Receive a Single Public Complaint Before Stripping Redskins Trademark

Jim McElhatton, Washington Times, July 1, 2014

The recent decision by an obscure administrative law board to cancel the Washington Redskins’ trademark registrations came despite the fact that the agency hadn’t received a single letter from a member of the public complaining about the team’s name, records show.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which is part of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, ruled last month that the name was disparaging to American Indians. The team is appealing that decision.

Politicians, including President Obama, have waded into the team name controversy, with many saying the team should change its name. But despite widespread media attention and a legal fight that goes back more than a decade, the USPTO recently acknowledged there’s hardly been an avalanche of public complaints filed with the agency.

In fact, the agency doesn’t have any record of correspondence from the public about the Redskins’ name–expressing sentiments one way or another–prior to the board’s June 18 ruling.

A Freedom of Information Act request from The Washington Times asking for any communications from Congress or the public produced just 13 pages of records.

Six of those pages were a handwritten, meandering letter from a man in Lubbock, Texas, whose position on the team name controversy isn’t clear. Another writer congratulated the appeals board after its decision but questioned whether the judges would “go after” the United Negro College Fund. Both letters were sent after the ruling.

In addition, there were a few pages of email correspondence between staffers for the USPTO and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s nonvoting member of Congress. Ms. Norton has been a vocal critic of the team name, but her staffers were mostly seeking background information on the case.

The board made its ruling last month based on a legal challenge from Amanda Blackhorse and four others, who petitioned the USPTO against the Redskins, calling the team name offensive to American Indians. {snip}


Rebecca Tushnet, a law professor at Georgetown University, said the patent office isn’t like the Federal Trade Commission or Food and Drug Administration, where there can be a public comment procedure for individual cases.

“If you don’t have a particular stake there’s no obvious point at which your input can be given,” she said. “I’m sure that doesn’t stop people from sending in correspondence, but I honestly wouldn’t know how to go about getting it read in an individual case.”


The trademark appeals board based its ruling on part of the law that says a trademark can be canceled if it is deemed disparaging. In the case of the Redskins, the board said the drop in the use of the word in the last century showed it was becoming a slur. The board also pointed to research that found at least 30 percent of American Indians surveyed found the name offensive.

The agency’s decision doesn’t mean the Redskins are barred from using the team name, but it does make it harder for them to assert their brand against potential copycats.

The same appeals board was overruled on appeal in 2003 after ruling against the Redskins in a similar case. Bob Raskopf, the team’s trademark attorney, said in a statement after the most recent ruling that he expects the same outcome.


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  • MekongDelta69

    “Patent Office Didn’t Receive a Single Public Complaint Before Stripping Redskins Trademark”

    Once again, let me be a ten y/o for a minute… “Well, duuuuuuuuuuh”

  • [Guest]

    In other words, to manufacture outrage is a successful strategy even when we all KNOW it’s manufactured.

  • This was nothing more than Obama’s pen and phone at work again.

  • me

    Manufactured consent. Manufactured outrage. Manufactured problem. Manufactured solution.
    The commies methodology in a nutshell….

    • AndrewInterrupted

      Maybe a more forward forehead and more protruding chin and call the new mascot: Europeans

      • me

        Even better…..

        • AndrewInterrupted

          Here’s an Aryan/European profile by comparison.

          Note the more vertical forehead (the higher evolved frontal lobe)
          and the protruding chin. That is the profile of a nation-maker.

    • UncleSham

      I’d root for them.

      • Hallie Eva

        My high school still has an Indian mascot, the sports teams referred to as Indians. No hassle, but the school serves a rural, conservative farming community in the Sac. Valley. [Currently being overrun with social service dependent brown squat monsters.]

  • Tarczan

    Obama will move from crisis to crisis to prevent any one crisis from being focused on. He got the word to this board to do this.

    This week we are already on the immigration crisis, which actually is a crisis.

    • Frank_DeScushin

      Yeah, except the current immigration crisis is a crisis for America and Americans. The media, however, is making it out to be a crisis for “those poor, just wanting a better life, Central Americans.” NBC is even using the hashtag #RefugeeRiders.

      • Dale McNamee

        All of these “refugees” should be sent to ABC,CBS,CNN, MSNBC, NBC, NPR, PBS, so that they can experience what diseases these ” #RefugeeRiders” are bringing to us…

        These “media elites” should take them into their homes as well…

  • dd121

    This is just a diversionary tactic from liberals who don’t want to face their scandals.

  • John R

    I know, like people are really emotionally upset over the term “redskin.” Please! This isn’t 1880, and we aren’t living on the wild frontier anymore. The term doesn’t have the same connotation that it once did. It’s kind of like the term “paddy wagon” for a large police wagon. People really need to get over themselves.

    • Dale McNamee

      “Paddy Wagon” referred to the Irish and their image as heavy drinkers…

      Being of Irish descent, I’m offended that “St.Patrick’s Day” is seen as a drinking holiday…

  • We need government bureaucrats to tell us what to do and how to think, for those (few) times when the mass media lapses.

    Meanwhile, George Will noted that “Oklahoma” is a compound of two Choctaw words meaning “red” and “people.” That state’ll need renaming too then. So far to go, we have so very far to go.

    • Who Me?

      And yet naming a big city in the State of Washington after a renowned chief doesn’t seem to bother them much–or are we going to hear libs yelping that “Seattle” must be renamed?

  • IKUredux

    RENAME EVERYTHING IN THIS COUNTRY BASED ON INDIAN CRAP. I guess that pretty much means renaming most of the states, most of the cities and counties. Hell, let’s take suggestions! Based on our demographics we could change Illinois, to Illxtec. We could change Seattle to Seaoxcan. Let’s rid ourselves of the horrible racist instincts that we caved into and get rid of the Dakotas! We could perhaps find some sort of Somali name for them. How about North and South Mohammed? Seriously, folks, this could be FUN! Let’s open up a discussion on the internet and take suggestions, and, REMOVE every racist reference to Indians in this racist, God forsaken country, literally, the worst place on Earth, just one step from Hell itself.

    • Tim_in_Indiana

      Not quite yet, but a country heads in that direction based on the amount of “diversity” it has.

      • IKUredux

        Wow. My comment was deleted. If that doesn’t show you what direction this country is headed in, I don’t know what does. And, on this website!

        • AndrewInterrupted

          Can you give us a PG-13 version of what you said, out of curiosity?

          • Hallie Eva

            Yes, please, IKU, favor us with a moderation proof comment stating the point you were trying to make.

          • AndrewInterrupted

            Well, we tried. <;-D

  • guest

    Maybe I miss the point of this news item, but it serves in a way to suggest how abraded the citizenry had gotten toward government and toward the “promise” that government will be responsive. The federal Freedom of Information Act (applicable to the Patent Office, of course ) appears to be something that is massively underused in the academic community? While this news item gets at a failure to register complaints, the FOIA is the even more basic matter of the right to get information in reasonable detail. The outstanding educational psychologist, Prof. Ellis Page, used the FOIA to get some information regarding the academic wheeling-and-dealing of the late Prof. Rick Heber, vis a vis the Milwaukee Project. But I have thus far found no indication that others in the academic community having massive and well-founded curiosity about Heber and the Project ever tried to make use of the FOIA to that end? I don’t think use of the FOIA is given formal attention in most graduate study programs even in the prestige universities within which a very large segment of the graduate students will themselves become part of academia? Frankly, what we might term the “Courage Quotient” may be a factor In any underuse of either objection or information seeking? Academia may safely have a “license” to Matt Dillon active with information published in academic journals, but there is some sense academia needs to be Walter Mitty mild about sinking either protest or information requests into Big Gov?

  • Simonetta

    You should just call your sports team the “Injuns”, and tell people that it is of course short for “Indigenous People”.