NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Patent Office Cancels Football Team's Trademark

June 23, 2014

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office withdrew the Washington Redskins' trademark protection, contending that its name was insulting to Native Americans. Without their trademark, the National Football League team could lose millions of dollars, says Economics21.

A 1946 law gives the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) the ability to refuse trademark protection if the trademark "[c]onsists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute."

However, that standard is being selectively enforced.

  • Other sports teams -- including the Chicago Blackhawks, Florida State Seminoles and Cleveland Indians -- have similar names, yet their trademarks are intact.
  • According to Time Magazine, 450 companies have trademark protection for their Native American mascots.

Trademarks are intellectual property, yet the PTO has now ruled that such a property right can be waived if the government decides that it is offensive. There is no limit to that type of government authority, says Economics21. The market, not the government, is supposed to be the arbiter of acceptable speech. 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has repeatedly stressed that the Redskins' name was never meant to be offensive: "This is...a football team that's had that name for 80 years and has presented the name in a way that it has honored Native Americans."

Source: Jacob Gershman, Ashby Jones, and Kevin Clark, "U.S. Patent Office Cancels Washington Redskins Trademarks," Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2014; "Redskins Ruling a Blow to Free Speech, Property Rights," Economics21, June 18, 2014.


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