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Trademark board rules against Redskins name

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A federal trademark board ruled Wednesday that the Washington Redskins nickname is "disparaging of Native Americans" and that the team's trademark protections should be canceled, a decision that applies new financial and political pressure on the team to change its name.

The 2-1 ruling from the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board came in a case that has been working its way through legal channels for more than two decades. It doesn't force the team to abandon the name, but it comes at a time of increasing criticism of team owner Dan Snyder from political, religious and sports figures who say it's time for a change.

The Redskins quickly announced that they will appeal, and the cancellation for trademark protections will be on hold while the matter makes its way through the courts. That process could take years.

It was the second time the board had issued an opinion on the case. A similar ruling from 1999 was overturned on a technicality in 2003.

"We've seen this story before," Redskins attorney Bob Raskopf said. "And just like last time, today's ruling will have no effect at all on the team's ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo. We are confident we will prevail once again."

The ruling involves six uses of the "Redskins" name trademarked by the team from 1967 to 1990. If it stands, it would mean the team can continue to use the name, but it would lose a significant portion of its ability to protect the financial interests connected to it. If others printed the name on sweatshirts or other apparel without permission, it would become more cumbersome to go after such groups.

Courts overturned the board's previous ruling in part because the plaintiffs waited too long to voice their opposition after the original trademarks were issued. The case was relaunched in 2006 by a younger group of Native Americans who had recently become adults and therefore would not have able to file a case earlier. The hearing was held in March of last year.

The chorus of critics against the use of the name has grown over the past year.

On Saturday, a major sector of the United Church of Christ voted to urge its 40,000 members to boycott the Redskins. Half of the U.S. Senate recently wrote letters to the National Football League urging a change, one of the letters stating that "racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports." D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray suggested Wednesday the name will almost certainly have to change if the team ever wants to build a new stadium in the city.

Snyder, who has vowed repeatedly never to change the name, declined comment as he walked off the field after a minicamp practice Wednesday. Redskins players have mostly avoided the topic, aware of a potential conflict because they are employed by the team.

"Our job as players is to focus on what we can on this field day-in and day-out and let the legal people take care of that stuff," quarterback Robert Griffin III said after practice. "And when it's the right time, then we can voice whatever it is we know about the situation."

The Redskins have responded to critics by creating an Original Americans Foundation to give financial support to Native American tribes. Suzan Shown Harjo, a lead figure in the trademark case, called the foundation "somewhere between a PR assault and bribery."

Supporters of a name change quickly hailed the decision.

"Daniel Snyder may be the last person in the world to realize this," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor, "but it is just a matter of time until he is forced to do the right thing."
 

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  1. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  2. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  3. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  4. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  5. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

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