The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has deemed the word “Redskin” unfit for protection under trademark laws because it is “disparaging.” The case document cites five dictionaries and news sources including MSNBC, the Washington Post, and ICTMN.
This is good news, although not the best news, for those who would like to see the Washington NFL franchise change its name. The Patent Office was not, unfortunately, addressing the Redskins football team — the trademark application had been submitted for a product called “Redskins Hog Rinds.”
That’s right — the U.S. Patent Office denied a trademark for a “Redskins” brand of pork rinds on grounds that it’s a racist term, but the Washington NFL team still retains the trademark on its name.
A ruling on the pending Washington Redskins trademark case “could come any day,” according to an article about the pork-rind case in the Washington Post.
What should be made clear is that the U.S. government has declined to protect the product name Redskins Hog Rinds; the company that makes the product is not forbidden to use the name. There is much confusion in the comments on the WaPo article, with posters bemoaning political correctness and an encroachment on free speech. One of the readers explains the difference between censorship and this ruling: “You have the right to say anything you want if you’re not attempting to incite violence, but the federal government doesn’t have to grant you exclusive rights to profit from your bigotry.”
It’s not clear what effect, if any, the pork-rind decision will have on the football-team decision. The suit against the Washington Redskins isn’t a simple racist-or-not decision on a word. But as an indicator of how the Patent and Trademark Office feels about the term “redskin,” the ruling against Redskins Hog Rinds is a welcome one to efforts like Change the Mascot, a campaign against the name being spearheaded by Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter.
“The USPTO ruling sends a powerful message to Washington team owner Dan Snyder and the NFL that in the name of basic decency and respect they should immediately stop spending millions of dollars to promote the R-word,” said Halbritter. “This is a huge potential precedent-setter rooted in the painfully self-evident truth that the Change the Mascot campaign has been reiterating: The R-word is a dictionary defined slur designed to demean and dehumanize an entire group of people. The federal government was right to declare that taxpayers cannot and should not subsidize the promotion of that slur through lucrative patent protections.”