It turns out that Daniel Snyder was right. And this time it doesn’t pain me to say it.
Like a good football defense, the Supreme Court threw the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a loss for going offside on the law. We are talking an 8-0 shutout of the government’s argument.
The Redskins are collateral winners of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of The Slants musical band. The Patent Office denied trademark registration of the band brand for the well-intended purpose of discouraging hateful speech. The band argued that branding themselves as “Slants” was not self-hate.
There is a subtle difference between the case for The Slants and for the Redskins.
The band is building a new brand with a term used by some to disparage people.
The Redskins have a long established, well known, already registered, financially valuable trademark that the Patent Board tried to extinguish.
Provisions in the Lanham (Trademark) Act itself should have constrained the Trademark Office.
In the long legal process against the Redskins, the Board itself found that the dictionary word “redskin” had already fallen into disuse when the NFL team registered The Redskins® as a trademark in 1972. Even then, the favored terms to slur native people were the i-word and the n-word.
A respected Native American leader, Walter “Blackie” Wetzel, prompted the Redskins to use a logoed native profile on the team’s helmet.
The Redskins never promoted the brand as endorsement of social policy against anyone … except those unwashed heathens in Dallas.
The period to challenge the Redskins trademark registration expired in the 1970s. The law required the Board to find that people were offended by the trademark at the time it was registered.
The Trademark Office contorted itself to hear a contrived grievance.
Now, 25 years later, the Supreme Court shut down the authority of the Trademark Board to make that call at all.
“The Redskins” is a brand and “redskin” is a word. Like God and god, they are not the same. Brand names are not found in dictionaries. Brands are owned by the brand owner. They alone define its meaning.
That’s the point of the Trademark law. You’d think the Patent and Trademark Office would know that.