University of Mount Olive
Business Law BUS 630
April 26, 2015
Important Facts: As stated by the media fact sheet, The Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc. was a decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) resolving the joint petition filed at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) by five Native Americans. The five Native Americans were seeking to cancel six federal registration trademarks which included the term “Redskins” (Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) Decision in Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc., 2014). It was determined by the TTAB, an independent administrative tribunal within the USPTO, that the Blackhorse petitioners were left with the burden of proof. The petitioners felt that the term “Redskins” was disparaging of Native Americans, when relative to professional football services. Based on the decision and in accordance with the relevant laws, the federal registrations for the “Redskins” trademarks were found to be in violation of Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act of 1946.15 U.S.C. §1052(a) and must be cancelled (Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) Decision in Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc., 2014). The initial dispute took place in 1992, Suzan Shown Harjo, President of the Morning Star Institute, with six other prominent Native Americans, petitioned the USPTO to cancel the trademark registrations owned by Pro-Football, Inc. The lawsuit was based on the claim that federal trademark law states that certain trademark registrations are not legal if they are "disparaging, scandalous, contemptuous, or disreputable" (Washington Redskins trademark dispute, 2015). Seven years later, the USPTO judges canceled the federal registration of the trademark “Redskins” on the grounds that the subject marks may be disparaging of Native Americans (Washington Redskins trademark dispute, 2015). Pro Football, Inc. appealed the decision in District Court and the ruling was reversed based on the grounds of insufficient evidence of disparagement by the petitioners. Additionally, subsequent appeals have been rejected on the basis that the Native American plaintiffs did not pursue their rights in timely manner (Washington Redskins trademark dispute, 2015). In March 2013, Congress attempted to amend the Trademark Act of 1946, “to void any trademark registrations that disparage Native American persons or peoples, such as Redskins;” however, Congress does not believe that federal legislation is the correct road to take in this case (Washington Redskins trademark dispute, 2015). In August 2014, the Washington Redskins filed an appeal in the Blackhorse stating, “that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) ignored both federal case law and the weight of the evidence" (Washington Redskins trademark dispute, 2015). They also cite infringement of their First Amendment right to free expression. In September 2014, the Native Americans asked that the team's appeal be dismissed because it names them as individuals, which is contrary to federal law, and because the appeal was filed with the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, VA; stating that the Redskins should have filed its case against the patent office in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, DC. In Oct, 2014 Judge Gerald B. Lee rejected the Native American petitioner’s attempts to have the teams appeal dismissed (Washington Redskins trademark dispute, 2015). In January 2015, The Justice Department announced they would be looking to intervene in the Washington Redskins' trademark protection lawsuit. The Justice Department will defend the constitutionality of part of the Lanham Act. The Lanham Act prohibits trademarks that could disparage or bring people into "contempt or disrepute" (Justice Department Intervenes in Redskins' Trademark Lawsuit, 2015).
Plaintiff: Five Native Americans: Amanda Blackhorse, Marcus Briggs, Philip Gover, Jillian