What’s in a Name? A Look into the Washington Redskins Trademark Dispute

Author: Ashley Clever, Contributing Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

Many currently debate whether or not the Washington Redskins name and logo should be changed for disparaging Native Americans, but a closer look into trademark protection raises questions about the role of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and where this push for change should ultimately come from. A quick search on the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) reveals 130 records of trademarks containing the f-word (26 of which are currently being used in commerce). Live trademarks include “F—k You,” “F—k It,” “F—k Yeah,” and, quite possibly the most original, “All You F—n’ Hillbillies Shut the F—k Up,” which claims to be a brand of t-shirts.[1] Numerous comedy shows have poked fun at the trademark controversy, such as the South Park episode “Go Fund Yourself,” in which the characters begin a start-up company using the trademark “the Washington Redskins.”[2] While the controversy is being parodied in the news, it raises very relevant questions of why trademarks exist, what can be trademarked, and when a trademark should be canceled. The USPTO may have had good intentions in cancelling the trademark, but all they succeeded in accomplishing was potentially harming consumers by making it more difficult for the Washington Redskins to prevent companies from producing counterfeiting goods bearing the Redskins logo.

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