The owners of the Washington Redskins NFL team have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their trademark cancellation appeal, even though the Fourth Circuit has yet to rule on the team’s case. The case challenges a June 2014 decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to revoke the trademark registrations on its controversial name.
The team filed a prejudgment petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court in part because of another petition in the similar case of Lee v. Tam, which also involves “disparaging” trademark issues. Following the cancellation of the team’s registrations by the US Patent and Trademark Office, the team appealed to a Virginia federal district court. In July 2015, that court ruled against the team and held that the restriction against registering disparaging trademarks is constitutional.
In December, a panel of judges in the Federal Circuit ruled differently in the Lee v. Tam case, declaring that the restriction on disparaging trademarks violated the First Amendment by denying the benefits of a federal trademark registration based on "unpopular speech". “Many of the marks rejected as disparaging convey hurtful speech that harms members of oft-stigmatized communities,” U.S. Circuit Judge Kimberly Moore wrote for a nine-judge majority. “But the First Amendment protects even hurtful speech.” The USPTO filed a petition for writ of certiorari from that ruling, and the Supreme Court’s decision on whether to hear the Lee v. Tam case is currently pending.