INITIAL CALL ON THE FIELD
In June 2014, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) stripped the Washington Redskins (Washington) of their federal trademarks, finding the term “Redskins” was disparaging under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act.
REPLAY OFFICIAL CONFIRMS THE CALL
Washington sought an instant replay before the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, but that Court affirmed the USPTO’s initial call. Washington then sought a replay in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, but this week, while that decision was under review, Washington threw a Hail Mary pass, asking the Supreme Court to intercede even before the Fourth Circuit decides Washington’s appeal.
WASHINGTON’S END AROUND
Washington’s unorthodox move is the result of another scrimmage — this one between the USPTO and the Portland dance-rock band, The Slants. As discussed in our prior post, The Slants, a band comprised of Asian Americans, tried to register their name with the USPTO, but the USPTO refused, citing Section 2(a). The Slants appealed the USPTO decision, lost at trial, but then won when the Federal Circuit reversed , finding that Section 2(a) was unconstitutional restraint of free speech under the First Amendment.
JOINING A GAME ALREADY IN PROGRESS
Last week the USPTO petitioned the Supreme Court to settle whether Section 2(a) violates the First Amendment. The thrust of the USPTO’s argument is that The Slants (and by extrapolation Washington) have free speech to call themselves whatever they want; the government is not stopping them. They just aren’t entitled to “federal trademark registration,” i.e., a stamp of approval for their use of “disparaging” names.
So Washington’s latest play is essentially joining The Slants to pile on the USPTO and knock Section 2(a) out of the trademark registration game.