In its ruling last year, the appeal board asserted that “Redskins” offends a large number of Native Americans and is therefore ineligible for trademark registration under the federal Lanham Act, which bars protection for names that “may disparage” or bring people into contempt or disrepute. The board based its vote on several factors, such as that “Redskins” is a dictionary-defined slur and the National Congress of American Indians declared the name racist.When the team sued Blackhorse and the four other activists in federal court, seeking to overturn the trademark board’s decision, it made several arguments. It argued that U.S. patent officials had infringed on the Redskins’ free speech rights and taken away a valuable commodity “without just compensation,” according to court documents, because the organization has invested millions of dollars in the use, promotion and protection of its trademarks.
The Redskins lawyers say in court papers that the team’s value increased from $741 million in 2000 to $2.4 billion by August 2014, with its brand management valued at $214 million.
But the Native Americans’ attorneys argued in court that the appeal board’s decision and the Lanham Act do not violate the First Amendment. They cited a fresh Supreme Court ruling in June that declared Texas didn’t violate the First Amendment when it banned specialty license plates proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans bearing the Confederate flag.
[Does Supreme Court ruling on Confederate license plates bolster ruling in Redskins trademark case? ]
The Supreme Court held that states don’t have to issue speciality license plates whose messages they don’t want to endorse but that would nonetheless carry the government’s imprimatur. The Native Americans’ attorneys argued the same theory holds true in this case: The trademark office doesn’t have to hand out registrations to entities whose names they find offensive but that would still carry the federal government’s stamp of approval.
Besides, the Native Americans’ attorneys argued, even if the team loses its federal trademark registrations, the Redskins can still call themselves by that name and can still enforce their trademark under state laws.
The team argued that Blackhorse and her fellow defendants didn’t meet the legal burden of proof by showing that enough Native Americans viewed the Redskins trademarks as offensive at the time each registration was issued between 1967 and 1990.
In fact, the team argued that many Native Americans love the name, citing a 1977 Thanksgiving game halftime show featuring hundreds of Native Americans participating in a marching band and pageant in a performance coordinated by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. The team also said that, between 1967 and 1990, multiple Native American schools and organizations across the country called their mascots the “Redskins” and that Blackhorse didn’t prove that enough Native Americans disliked the name at the time the team’s trademarks were registered.
The team’s final argument was that Blackhorse and her co-defendants waited too long to file their petition with the trademark appeal board. Blackhorse and her peers were aware of the Redskins trademarks years before their 18th birthday, the team argued, but in most cases, waited several years to file their grievance.
Throughout the entire battle, the Redskins have argued that the team name honors Native Americans. Dan Snyder, the owner, has vowed that he will never change the name.
Ian Shapira is a features writer on the local enterprise team and enjoys writing about people who have served in the military and intelligence communities. He joined the Post in 2000 and has covered education, criminal justice, technology, and art crime. …..’