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Football team's trademark rejected as "derogatory"

Football fans in Minnesota may be following the ongoing controversy surrounding the name and logo of the Washington Redskins. In an interesting turn of events, The United States Patent and Trademark Office has recently rejected a trademark application by the professional football team on the basis of the proposed trademark being derogatory. The team filed an application to trademark the phrase "Redskins Hog Rinds."

Federal trademark authorities cited various sources to support the notion that the proposed mark is derogatory, including different definitions for the word "redskins" that indicate that it is commonly used to insult Native Americans. The office also cited organizations representing Native Americans that have designated the word "redskins" as a vulgarity, using the abbreviation "the R word" instead.

The application dealing with the pork rinds product precedes an anticipated decision from the trademark office on use of the word "redskins" as the team name and in other products and promotional materials. Many believe that the denial of this application reflects a high likelihood that the trademark office will deny trademark protection to the word for the team's purposes.

This team name has been controversial for many years, with activists seeking to end its use and to stop the sale of merchandise with the word "redskins" and a cartoon depiction of a Native American displayed.

Most readers were probably unaware that a trademark could be denied on these grounds. The important thing to remember is that the trademark office isn't telling the team that they cannot use it, only that they cannot gain trademark protection that gives them a monopoly on the word for commercial use. This is still a powerful deterrent to continuing to use the name, however, since the team would no longer have the ability to prevent others from producing and selling merchandise with the team's name displayed.

Source: Washington Post, "Agency rejects trademark of 'Redskins Hog Rinds," calling term 'derogatory'" Theresa Vargas, Jan. 6, 2014.

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