Washington Redskins Trademarks Cancelled

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) recently canceled a variety of Washington Redskins trademarks on grounds that the trademarks were disparaging to a significant proportion of Native Americans at the time of registration.  Disparagement is a statutory cause of action that permits cancellation of a trademark registration that “may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs or national symbols, or bring them into contempt or disrepute.”

The TTAB arrived at the same conclusion in 1999 when it canceled the Washington Redskins’ trademarks; however, the ruling was overturned on appeal based on the equitable doctrine of laches, which provides a defense where an unreasonable delay pursuing a right or claim exists.  If the TTAB’s ruling is again appealed, as is widely assumed, it will be interesting to see whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia will issue a ruling based on the merits of the TTAB’s decision, or once again rely on the doctrine of laches and overturn the TTAB’s ruling for a second time.

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