Social movements and the law do not always see eye to eye, but a group of Native American activists believe that they have found a way to make the law work to their benefit. Specifically, these activists have engaged in a 14-year struggle to cancel the trademarks of the Washington Redskins (six separate trademark registrations collectively referred to as “the Redskins trademark” [FOOTNOTE 1]), a team in the National Football League recently valued by Forbes magazine as the most valuable sports franchise in the United States, at $1.4 billion.[FOOTNOTE 2]

The activists started with a petition to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in 1992, went all the way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2003, and in August 2006 brought another petition hoping to restart their campaign to eliminate negative stereotypes of Native Americans. They believe that the Redskins trademark portrays Native Americans in a negative fashion as savage and ferocious.[FOOTNOTE 3] This is reinforced by the NFL team’s use of the Redskins trademark “to strike fear into the hearts of opponents.”[FOOTNOTE 4]