On Thursday, August 14, 2014, the Washington Redskins filed a much-anticipated appeal in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia of a June Trademark Trial and Appeal Board decision which resulted in cancellation of six of the team’s federal trademark registrations containing the word REDSKIN. As previously reported in Re:Marks, the TTAB issued a divided ruling which stated that the Redskin Registrations “must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the time of registration,” in violation of Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act, which prohibits the registration of trademarks that disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute.
The team seeks to challenge the TTAB ruling on the grounds that it disregarded federal case law and the weight of the evidence presented during the TTAB proceeding. Additionally, the team seeks to challenge the TTAB decision on constitutional grounds, namely, that the decision impinges on the team’s right of freedom of speech and that the ruling constitutes an unfair deprivation of valuable intellectual property assets.
The TTAB’s decision to cancel the REDSKIN trademark registrations will not be given effect during the pendency of appeal proceedings. Thus, for the time being, the REDSKINS-formative registrations remain intact on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Principal Register.
The team successfully appealed a prior TTAB decision cancelling the same registrations at issue in the present case in an appeal in Federal court in 2003. As such, the team appears to be optimistic about its chances of success in the current appeal. However, the team prevailed in the earlier appeal based primarily on procedural grounds that may not be available in this case. Also noteworthy is the fact that the team has filed this appeal in the U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Virginia, better known as the “rocket docket,” known for its expeditious disposition of matters before it. Therefore, be sure to check back regularly for additional updates as this case will likely develop quickly going forward.