Wednesday, October 1, 2003
Judge: Insufficient evidence name is offensive
WASHINGTON -- A federal judge has overturned a ruling that
canceled the Washington Redskins trademark, finding there was
insufficient evidence to conclude the name is disparaging to
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said a 1999 decision
by a panel of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office relied on flawed
or incomplete data when it found the NFL team's name so offensive
it should not be given legal protection. But she also made clear
that her ruling does not address the issue of whether the name
"Redskins" actually is insulting to Indians.
The case pits one of the NFL's oldest and wealthiest franchises
against seven American Indian activists, led by Suzan Shown Harjo
of Washington, who claim the team's name and feather-wearing mascot
disparage Indian heritage and tradition.
Team officials say the name is meant to honor American Indians.
Pro-Football Inc., the company that owns the Redskins, said it
would face massive financial losses if it lost the exclusivity of
the brand it had marketed for 36 years.
"We are pleased with the judge's finding," team owner Dan
Snyder said Wednesday. "This team has always treated its name and
trademarks with the utmost respect and our fans worldwide
understand and acknowledge the tradition of the Washington
Michael Lindsay, a lawyer for Harjo and the other petitioners,
said his clients would consider an appeal.
"We are disappointed in the ruling, and the struggle
continues," he said.
If the team had lost, it could have been stripped of the
exclusive rights to market the Redskins name and sell team
merchandise worth millions. Harjo has said she hoped a victory
might lead Snyder to change the team's name. He had pledged not to
regardless of the outcome.
The Washington franchise originally was located in Boston and
was called the Braves until it was purchased by George Preston
Marshall in 1932. He changed the name to the Boston Redskins in
honor of the team's head coach, William "Lone Star" Dietz, who
was an American Indian. The team moved to Washington in 1937 and
was renamed the Washington Redskins.
The lawsuit began in 1992 when Harjo asked the trademark office
to cancel six Redskin trademarks under the federal Lanham Act,
which prohibits registering names if they are "disparaging,
scandalous, contemptuous or disreputable." The Trademark Trial and
Appeal Board agreed to cancel the trademark. Its decision did not
take effect pending appeal.
In her decision issued late Tuesday, Kollar-Kotelly criticized
the trademark board for improperly relying on testimony of several
experts on language who had differing opinions about whether the
name was disparaging.
She also chastised the board for basing its decision in part on
a 1996 survey of about 300 American Indians that showed a majority
found the term "redskin" offensive. She said the board erred in
extrapolating the results of that survey to the American Indian
population as a whole.
"The board premised its disparagement conclusion on a paucity
of actual findings of fact that were linked together through
inferential arguments that had no basis in the record,"
"There is no evidence in the record that addresses whether the
use of the term "redskin(s)" in the context of a football team
and related entertainment services would be viewed by a substantial
composite of Native Americans, in the relevant time frame, as
disparaging," she wrote.
Kollar-Kotelly also found that the activists waited too long to
make their claims - 25 years after the Redskins first registered
"In 1967, the NFL was still a nascent industry," she wrote.
"Had this suit been brought at that point, Pro-Football may have
acquiesced and changed the name. The 25-year delay, where
Pro-Football has invested so heavily in the marks, has clearly
resulted in economic prejudice."