HEADLINE

Redskins’ trademark usage boosted by Supreme Court ruling

Sports Xchange

June 19, 2017 at 1:26 pm.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of a federal law that bans offensive trademark protection in a ruling that could benefit the Washington Redskins in their legal fight over the team’s controversial nickname.

The justices ruled the 71-year-old trademark law barring disparaging terms infringes on free speech rights.

The law used by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to prevent the NFL team from registering trademarks in and relating to the word “Redskins” and the logos used by the team was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

“Holding that the registration of a trademark converts the mark into government speech would constitute a huge and dangerous extension of the government-speech doctrine, for other systems of government registration (such as copyright) could easily be characterized in the same way,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion for the court.

“The commercial market is well stocked with merchandise that disparages prominent figures and groups, and the line between commercial and non-commercial speech is not always clear, as this case illustrates. If affixing the commercial label permits the suppression of any speech that may lead to political or social ‘volatility,’ free speech would be endangered.”

The ruling is a victory for Simon Tam, an Asian-American musician and political activist who named his rock band “The Slants” in an attempt to take back a term that once directed as an insult. He sought to register the name with the trademark office.

The case was closely watched for the impact it would have on a separate dispute involving the Redskins, who are owned by Dan Snyder.

In 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board revoked six federal trademark registrations belonging to the Redskins, a ruling which was affirmed by a federal judge in 2015.

In September 2016, the Supreme Court announced it would hear the similar case concerning The Slants, which indirectly was a win for the Redskins franchise on its own pending trademark battle.

Snyder has repeatedly insisted he will not change the team’s name despite continuing objections by Native Americans. He has called the Redskins’ name a “badge of honor.”

Redskins attorney Lisa Blatt said the team was “thrilled” with the court’s decision.

“The Team is thrilled with today’s unanimous decision as it resolves the Redskins’ long-standing dispute with the government,” Blatt told CNN in a statement. “The Supreme Court vindicated the Team’s position that the First Amendment blocks the government from denying or canceling a trademark registration based on the government’s opinion.”

 

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