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Redskins Prevail In Dispute Over Team Name


By Kevin Daley

The U.S. government will restore the Washington Redskins’ trademarks, after an appeals board rescinded the marks because they gave offense to American Indians.

Politico’s Josh Gerstein first flagged a letter from the federal government to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, conceding that a recent Supreme Court decision requires the Patent and Trademark Office to reinstate the team’s marks. They write:

The United States concurs with appellant Pro-Football, Inc., that oral argument is unnecessary. The Supreme Court’s decision in Matal v. Tam controls the disposition of this case. Consistent with Tam, the Court should reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case with instructions to enter judgment in favor of Pro-Football.

The Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning the registration of disparaging trademarks earlier in June, finding the law violates the First Amendment’s free speech clause.

The 1946 Lanham Trademark Act prohibits the registration of a trademark that “may disparage” a person, community, or institution. A challenge to the law was brought by Simon Shiao Tam, bass-player for the Chinatown dance rock bandThe Slants.” The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) denied the band’s request for a trademark, finding their name could offend Asians. The band is composed exclusively of Asian-Americans, who selected the name to strip the slur of its potency.

The ruling, written by Justice Samuel Alito, says that trademarks are private, not government speech, and that the government may not curtail even offensive expression. The decision was unanimous.

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