This is interesting. And it could have some repercussions for our old friend Chief Wahoo.
The ruling came this morning in a case brought by five Native Americans, who sought cancellation of the team’s registrations by arguing that the trademarks violated the federal law, as stated at 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), prohibiting the “registration of marks that may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute,” as the agency wrote in its ruling.
This likely won’t go into effect immediately, as the Redskins can seek a stay of the order pending appeal. But if it holds up, it would allow anyone who wanted to to sell a Redskins shirt or merchandise with Redskins’ current trademarks. That hits the bottom line and that, more than any of the political pressure in the world, could inspire the Redskins to change their name, so as to continue to reap the profits of their trademarks.
Could this be applied to Chief Wahoo? I’m not a trademarks guy, so I’m not sure. It’s possible that Wahoo was trademarked at a time when it wasn’t considered disparaging. That seems crazy in that a racist sambo-esque character has been considered offensive in the country at large for at least as long as Wahoo has existed and maybe even longer. But like I said, I’m not sure about this area of the law and whether the Indians have some sort of safe harbor that the Redskins do not. Here is a law review article on the subject from 1998. It seems to think that the same rules would apply to both Wahoo and “Redskins.”
If they don’t, though, it could eventually spell the end of Wahoo merchandise and Wahoo logos on Indians uniforms. Because if they can’t make a buck off of it, why bother?