Judge won't cancel Redskins team trademarks
Thursday, October 2, 2003

Dealing a blow to a group of Native Americans, a federal judge on Wednesday ruled that the Washington Redskins football team can keep its contested trademarks.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said her 84-page "opinion should not be read as a making any statement on the appropriateness of Native American imagery for team names."

But she said a federal board that canceled the marks failed to gather sufficient evidence to show that they disparage Native Americans. "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," she wrote.

Kollar-Kotelly also determined that the seven Native activists who brought the challenge waited too long. In contrast, she said the team would suffer "economic hardship" because the marks were first registered more than 30 years ago.

"By waiting so long to exercise their rights, [the activists] make it difficult for any fact-finder to affirmatively state that in 1967 the trademarks were disparaging," Kollar-Kotelly concluded.

The decision caps off an 11-year battle between the activists and the owners of the team. In 1992, Suzan Shown Harjo and six other prominent members of the Indian community, including legal scholar Vine Deloria Jr. and educator Norbert Hill, asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the Redskins family of marks.

In April 1999, the group won a significant victory. In the first case of its kind, the patent office's Trademark Trial and Appeal Board said the marks were "disparaging" and subjected Native Americans to "contempt" and "disrepute."

Pro-Football Inc., the owners of the Redskins, appealed to the federal court in Washington, D.C., although it could have gone straight to an appeals court. Karl Swanson, a senior vice president and spokesperson for the team, welcomed the decision and said the name is not offensive to Native Americans.

"We do not believe it's disparaging," he said. "We believe our use of it is always respectful and honors a long standing tradition."

Harjo, who lives in Washington, D.C., could not be located yesterday for comment. She has compared her battle to "fighting the Washington monument." "We're seven individuals who don't want to pass this burden of racism onto our children," she once told Indianz.Com.

Indian organizations have backed Harjo's crusade. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the largest inter-tribal organization, and the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), the largest group of its kind, have called on the Redskins and other teams with Indian imagery to drop their names.

Across the country, colleges, universities and high schools have stopped using Indians as mascots and names. The National Collegiate Athletic Association has called on its schools to re-examine their use of Indian symbols.

Get the Decision:
Pro-Football, Inc. v. Harjo (September 30, 2003)

Recent Decision:
Pro Football Inc. v. Harjo (March 4, 2003)

Patent and Trademark Office Ruling:
Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (1999)

Relevant Links:
Redskins -

Related Stories:
Court considers cancellation of Redskins team marks (07/24)
Report: Redskins merchandise worth $5 million (07/24)
Judge to hold hearing on Redskins mark case (7/21)
Opinion: Take Indians out of Redskins (12/02)
On Mascots: 'Redskins' is our n-word (09/16)
White Man: Indians proud of Redskins (5/30)
Opinion: Why Redskins must change (3/4)
Redskins get 'new' old look (2/7)
Redskins uniforms changed, for now (2/6)
Harjo: Seeking 'honor' in R-word (2/4)
Opinion: Redskins is for Indians (1/28)
Letters: More on Redskins name (1/18)
Redskins name OK if it offends (1/17)
As If: Replace Redskins logo (1/15)
Editorial: Redskins honors Native people (1/14)
Letters: Debate over Redskins name (1/14)
Redskins name called 'dehumanizing' (1/10)
Redskins told to pick new name (1/9)
Letter: 'Redskins' honors Native people (1/9)
Opinion: War over Redskins plate (1/7)
Redskins name wanted changed (11/19)

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