US & Canada

'Disparaging' Redskins team trademarks cancelled

A Washington Redskins football helmet seen in Ashburn, Virginia, on 18 June 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption The ruling - if it stands - does not bar the team from using the name but strips it of trademark protection

The US Patent and Trademark Office has cancelled the Washington Redskins trademarks, finding the football team's name disparages Native Americans.

The case was filed on behalf of five Native Americans who argued the trademarked team name was offensive.

Members of the US Congress and many in the US sport media have called for the team's name to be changed.

But owner Daniel Snyder has refused, saying it honours Native Americans. The team says it will appeal.

"We've seen this story before," said the team's lawyer Bob Raskopf.

"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. We are confident we will prevail once again."

In its decision released on Wednesday in the case of Blackhorse v Pro Football, Inc, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board said that federal law does not allow trademarks disparaging of individuals or groups.

"We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered," the board wrote.

The Oneida Indian Nation praised the "landmark" decision on Wednesday.

Image copyright AP
Image caption US politicians have called on the Redskins in recent months to change their team name

"If the most basic sense of morality, decency and civility has not yet convinced the Washington team and the NFL [National Football League] to stop using this hateful slur, then hopefully today's patent ruling will, if only because it imperils the ability of the team's billionaire owner to keep profiting off the denigration and dehumanization of Native Americans," Oneida Indian Nation representative Ray Halbritter wrote in a statement.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Some past players have spoken out, although current ones have stayed silent

The ruling applies to six trademarks - all containing the word Redskin - associated with the Washington DC NFL team.

The team can retain the trademark protection during an appeal process in the federal court system, however.

Should the trademarks ultimately be lost, the Redskins may continue using the name but will lose the right to sue those who infringe upon its use, as well as other legal protections.

Bob Raskopf, trademark attorney for the Redskins, said the team planned to appeal against the ruling to federal court and likened it to a similar case the team won more than a decade ago.

"We've seen this story before," he wrote in a statement. "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."

The Redskins trademarks were also cancelled in 1999. That decision was later overturned on appeal, with the court finding the petitioners waiting too long after the first Redskins trademark was issued in 1967 to challenge them.

For now, the ruling adds to growing pressure on the team to find another name.

Last month, half of the US Senate called on the NFL to order Mr Snyder to change the team name, calling it a "racial slur".

In a letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell, the senators said the league could no longer ignore calls from Native American groups.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder (right) has refused to change the team name

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - who represents more than two dozen tribes in Nevada - also said on Monday he would no longer attend Redskins games until the name is changed.

"This is extremely important to Native Americans all over the country that they no longer use this name. It's racist," he said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

"Every time they hear this name, it's a sad reminder of a long tradition of racism and bigotry."

Mr Obama, an American football fan, has also urged the Washington DC team to consider changing it.

But Mr Snyder cited polling he said suggested the public opposed a name change.

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