It was not a good week for the Washington Redskins. Not only did Howard Milstein withdraw his bid to buy the team, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office also handed the Redskins an unusual legal defeat. The PTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board cancelled the team’s trademark registration on the ground that it disparages American Indians. Harjo v. Pro-Football Inc., 21069.
The genesis of the landmark ruling goes back to 1991, when Stephen R. Baird, a partner in the Minneapolis office of Houston’s Arnold, White & Durkee P.C., suggested in an article that the Lanham Act might be used to deny registration for trademarks that denigrate American Indians. Under Sec. 2(a) of the act, the PTO cannot register trademarks that may “disparage” others or bring people into “contempt or disrepute.”
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