Despite Wednesday's ruling by the U.S Patent and Trademark Office that canceled six federal trademark registrations for the name "Washington Redskins," the question still remains whether or not team owner Daniel Snyder will change the name. In a statement put out by the organization, Redskins' trademark attorney Bob Raskopf said, "We've seen this story before. And just like last time, today's ruling will have no effect at all on the team's ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo."
In order to help everyone understand what's next in this process, I spoke with James E. Rosini, Partner & Head of the Trademark Department at Kenyon & Kenyon, LLP, founded in 1879, making it one of the oldest and largest Intellectual Property firms in the country. Rosini was the principal lawyer for the Tampa Bay Rays when they changed their name from the Devil Rays in 2007. That decision had nothing to do with disparaging a culture.
According to Jim, here's what's important to keep in mind given Wednesday's ruling.
- The ruling came out of the Trademark Office which only has jurisdiction over the registration of the trademarked property. In order to stop the use of the name a court would have to get involved.
- The issue of disparagement is at the forefront for the first time. In 2003, the U.S. district court reversed a 1999 ruling from the Trademark Office because of the technical question based on whether the suit was filed in a timely manner. The court thought that the suit took too long to come together. That case involved both the logo and the name and now the focus is solely the name.
- District courts are simply busy so it could be at least six to eight months before a decision is made. However, a proceeding could be brought to court asking for more immediate relief seeking an injunction in order to stop the use of the name. Again, this didn't happen last time.
- The Redskins could change their name the way St. John's University did going from the Redmen to the Red Storm. It's difficult to do because of all the clearances needed for merchandise, but the Rays process only took about 2-3 months. Major League Baseball has the authority to approve name changes, as does the NFL which could also probably force one.
Jim would advise the organization to change the name because of all the ill-will associated with it at this point, and a brand, especially a team, is supposed to convey the opposite. He expects the district court that will hear the appeal to agree with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board because it's the right thing to do. The TTAB bends over backwards to try to do the right thing and in this case involving human dignity, Jim thinks the court will agree.