Cancellation of the Washington Pro-Football Team’s Trademark Affirmed by District CourtJuly 9, 2015

In 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) cancelled six trademark registrations related to the Washington “Redskins.”The marks were found to disparage Native Americans; Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. § 1052(a)), prohibits the registration of disparaging marks. Following the cancellation, the mark owner appealed the decision to the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The district court recently affirmed the TTAB decision in Pro-Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse.  The mark owner’s primary argument was that Section 2(a) of the Act and the TTAB Order were unconstitutional. The Court reasoned that Section 2(a) does not implicate the First Amendment because it is government speech, that Section 2(a) is not void for vagueness, and that a trademark registration is not considered property under the 5th Amendment making the Takings Clause and Due Process Clause not applicable. The court ultimately affirmed that cancellation of the mark as disparaging at the time of registration considering the dictionary definition; literary, scholarly, and media references; and statements of individuals in the allegedly disparaged group.

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