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Opinion

Patent office rejects attempt to trademark 'Redskins' name as too offensive

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Sports,NFL,Redskins,Sean Higgins,Race and Diversity,Political Correctness

An attempt to copyright the name "Redskins Hog Rinds" was rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on the basis that "redskins" is an offensive term. The action follows President Obama's October comments that the term is offensive and his call for Washington's NFL team -- also called the Redskins -- to change its name.

The attempt was made by a California trademark attorney. It is not clear when he initially made the request or what company he was representing. An attorney for the USTPO rejected the request on Dec. 29, stating: "Given that 'REDSKINS' ... is a derogatory slang term that refers to, and is considered offensive by, American Indians, registration of the applied-for mark must be refused under Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act."

It is not clear if the Trademark and Patent Office's decision represented any kind of precedent regarding the term "redskins." A spokesman did not immediately responded to a request for comment. The attorney who applied for the trademark, Raj Abhyanker, could not be reached for comment. UPDATE: A USTPO spokesman noted that the office granted a 1992 petition by Native American activist Suzan Harjo to have the NFL team's trademark rejected. Pro-Football, Inc., the team's parent company, challenged the action in court and has been able to retain the name and related trademarks.

The decision was made nearly three months after Obama told the Associated Press he thought the NFL team with the same name should pick a new moniker.

"If I were the owner of the team and I knew that the name of my team -- even if they've had a storied history -- was offending a sizable group of people, I'd think about changing it," Obama said in an October interview.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder has rejected Obama's suggestion just as he has rejected earlier calls, arguing the name has its own proud heritage with the team. "[W]e owe it to our fans and coaches and players, past and present, to preserve that heritage," he said in Oct. 9 statement.

Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie had "no comment" to the Washington Examiner's inquiry on the matter.

UPDATE: A spokesman for Raj Abhyanker said the trademark was registered for an individual, not a company. He further noted that the term "redskin" is not considered automatically disparaging under the USTPO rules. It is allowed in certain circumstances with food products when it is descriptive and not referring to Native Americans, such as redskin potatoes. He said they did not know how their client intended to use the trademark and whether it would refer to Native Americans.

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Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner