CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office delivered a landmark ruling Wednesday morning that could eventually impact the Cleveland Indians and the team’s use of Chief Wahoo.
In a 177-page brief, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board cancelled 6 trademarks of the Washington Redskins deeming the name and logos “disparaging to Native Americans.”
The cancellation of the Redskins trademarks opens the door for the board to cancel the trademarks of other teams – including the Indians should litigation be brought forward.
The Indians declined comment to 92.3 The Fan on Wednesday’s Redskins ruling.
“We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered,” the board wrote in its opinion.
The decision means that the Redskins can continue to use the Redskins name, but it would lose a significant portion of its ability to protect the financial interests connected to its use. If others printed the name on sweatshirts, apparel, or other team material, it becomes more difficult to go after groups who use it without permission.
Despite claims to the contrary from the team over the years, the Indians have been slowly and quietly phasing out its use of Chief Wahoo.
The Wahoo logo, which native Americans have also deemed offensive and protest annually on opening day and when the team makes the postseason, used to be the primary logo of the team and it appeared everywhere but it has since been replaced with the plain red ‘block C’ and has become more of a secondary logo.
It is no longer featured prominently on the Indians website, at Progressive Field, the team’s training complex in Goodyear, Arizona or even in graphics for its television broadcasts.
Last year, the Indians replaced Chief Wahoo on their batting helmets with the ‘block C’ after Major League Baseball required teams to pick 1 logo for use. The ‘block C’ is also featured on road and home uniform hats even though a hat bearing Wahoo is also still worn as well.
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has refused to change the team’s name, citing tradition, but there has been growing pressure including statements in recent months from President Barack Obama, lawmakers of both parties and civil rights groups.
The decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board is similar to one it issued in 1999. That ruling was overturned in 2003 in large part on a technicality after the courts decided that the plaintiffs were too old and should have filed their complaint soon after the Redskins registered their nickname in 1967.
The new case was launched in 2006 by a younger group of Native Americans, and was heard by the board in March of last year.
The group argued that the Redskins should lose their federal trademark protection based on a law that prohibits registered names that are disparaging, scandalous, contemptuous or disreputable. The case involves six registered trademarks that involve the use of the word Redskins, but it does not apply to the team’s logo.
Suzan Shown Harjo, one of the plaintiffs who testified at last year’s hearing, said she was “thrilled and delighted” with the decision. The Redskins did not immediately comment.
It’s not a matter of if Wednesday’s ruling will impact the Indians, it’s now a matter of when and if today’s ruling is upheld, Chief Wahoo’s days of being officially trademarked appear to be numbered.
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