2014 Symposium: Should the government be allowed to terminate trademark rights for material some may deem “offensive” (Washington Redskins controversy)?

Raleigh: Current times are times of political correctness. It is quite dangerous to say or write something which does not agree with popular opinion without subjecting oneself to onslaught of public scorn. As such, many high-profile cases come into public attention when they deem to be politically incorrect. One of these is the case of Washington Redskins football team name which many Native Americans feel is derogative and a racial slur against them. Should the government be involved into such cases and rule the change of trademark rights to go along with current political culture?

After intense pressure from some Native Americans’ groups, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has cancelled Washington Redskins’ trademark registration in 2014 deeming that the team’s name and logo were disparaging. According to the decision, about 30 percent of Native Americans found the name to be offensive. Besides, federal trademark law prohibits the registration of trademarks which “may disparage” individuals or groups or “bring them into contempt or disrepute”. Still, the ruling is largely symbolical and would not prevent the team from using its name and selling the merchandise associated with it. The team will still have “common law” rights to the name and can sue individuals or organizations that might want to profit from it. Moreover, team owner Daniel Snyder has argued that instead of being racially offensive, the name of the team honors and grants recognition to Native Americans. Consequently, the team is appealing the decision.

First Amendment of U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. It is one of the most cherished and undeniable rights of American people especially when compared to many people around the world who are harshly prosecuted for voicing their opinions. As such, any intrusion of government into trademark rights based on political correctness is a slippery slope matter. How far can the government go deciding what’s appropriate and what’s not without becoming a totalitarian one? The whole spirit of America is based on respect for freedom, democracy, and legality and it should stay like that.
Prescott Valley: The government should not be allowed to terminate trademark rights for what they deem offensive concerning the Washington Redskins and their supposedly distasteful and politically incorrect team name.

A recent report from the Legal Times indicated that U.S. Federal District Court Judge, Gerald Lee, recently ruled that the team can proceed in its legal fight to defend its trademark. The team had filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia after an administrative panel found that the trademarks were disparaging to Native Americans and should be canceled.

The Redskins’ appeal is asking for the court to address Constitutional issues, as the trademark board “improperly penalized the Washington Redskins based on the content of the team’s speech in violation of the First Amendment” and that “the team has been unfairly deprived of its valuable and long-held intellectual property rights in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

This isn’t a new case as the trademark board canceled the team’s trademark registrations in 1999 and the team won on appeal as the court ruled that the plaintiffs (Blackhorse v. Pro Football Inc.) had waited too long to file their suit.

The recent decision that affected the team’s trademark issues came through the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board that determined in a split decision to order the cancellation of the decade’s old federal trademark registrations. The Redskins’ attorneys decided that the only way to resolve the issue was to begin new litigation through the federal court and a federal judge and not through a governmental administrative agency that rendered the split decision.

As is evident from the past and present appeals, the governmental attempts are still in interference mode to force the Redskins to conform to what they feel is just in their eyes concerning the team’s name and its legally obtained and long-standing trademarks. Stirring up a kind of politically correct payback in the form of forcing a team to cease using its trademarks is just another current ploy for justifying a response to long past Native American issues that have nothing to do with a team name, other than a politically correct reparations mindset. Once again, the government is ever on the march to defend, control and destroy, but it is now up to justice to prevail. One attorney for the team, Robert Raskopf, recently said “The team is optimistic that the court will correctly and carefully evaluate the proofs, listen to the arguments, and confirm the validity of the team’s trademark registrations.”

Cartwright: No, this is a gross miscarriage of justice. This is an overreaching federal government that has no respect for private property rights or the Constitution. This administration is driven by emotions and far left liberal ideology. As I said before, if the free market feels a trademark is offensive, consumers won’t buy the product. The ticketholders don’t have to go to the games and no one has to buy tickets. At the end of the day, the fans don’t have the moral outrage that the media and this administration have. Most people don’t care. I know a lot of Redskins fans, and they’re outraged that their team is under attack.

Is this all the government has to worry about right now? We have terrorists taking over the Middle East and plotting to kill us. We have $20 trillion in debt. We have enough problems to worry about. We sure as hell don’t need the government worrying about whether the Redskins are offending someone. I’m offended that these rappers refer to me as a cracker, but is the government shutting down the rap industry? No. This is sheer hypocrisy on the part of the administration and liberals, but then again, I would expect nothing more of them.

If the media isn’t outraged by this violation of private property rights, they’re not fit to be in the business. If the administration can get away with this, what’s to say they won’t shut down a network if they deem it offensive? This is absolutely ridiculous. I hope the Supreme Court hears this case and sides with Dan Snyder.

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