What little yesterday’s
Redskins decision means
(A brief lesson in trademarks)
Disclaimer 2: I do NOT endorse use of the name “Redskins.” I think the name needs to go, and that an apology is due.
Contrary to many media reports, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decision to revoke federal registration from “Washington Redskins” does not make the name and marks available to all who wish to use them. If the decision stands, you will no longer see a little ® next to the name. That’s it. The legal validity of “Washington Redskins” as a trademark stands.
In the United States, you do not own a trademark by registering it. You own it by being the first to market products or services with the mark across state lines. You need no ® to own it or defend your claim to it.
The ® does no more than put would-be mark poachers on notice that you are so serious about owning the mark that you took the trouble to register it with the government. The red tape-less, common-law alternative is the TM. It, too, alerts would-be poachers that you claim the mark as your exclusive property, and it holds up in court. You can also use and protect a trademark with no ® or TM at all. Again, the key to trademark ownership and protection is to use it in a consistent, trademark-like manner across state lines.
Redskins trademark attorney Bob Raskopf was correct when he said, “Today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the teams’ ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo.” Revocation of the ® does not preclude claiming the name as a trademark, with or without the use of TM.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office doesn’t decide what is and isn’t a valid, protected trademark. That would be for a court to decide, and that won’t happen until someone else tries to use the mark and the team sues to stop them. Given the deservedly bad PR surrounding the name these days, let’s hope the name and marks just go away.