The Washington Redskins on Monday afternoon petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its case challenging the constitutionality of a law that permits a trademark to be barred if it “disparages” others.
In June 2014 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office [PTO] ruled the Redskins cannot trademark their team name because federal law prohibits the registration of any trademark that is “scandalous, immoral, or disparaging.”
However, in a separate case, Lee v. Tam, in December 2015, a federal court of appeals ruled that an Asian rock group called The Slants could trademark their name despite the fact that many find it offensive. “The government enacted this law – and defends it today – because it disapproves of the messages conveyed by disparaging marks,” wrote the court in its decision. “It is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment that the government may not penalize private speech merely because it disapproves of the message it conveys.”
However, Amerindian groups argued that the “refusal to register a trademark does not impair the applicant’s free speech rights under the First Amendment.”
The U.S. government has asked the Supreme Court to overrule the ruling in the case involving The Slants and the Redskins are asking that their case now be heard alongside Lee v. Tam.
Losing its trademark would not force the Redskins to change the team name, but could enable others to make money selling goods with the team name and/or logo without paying the NFL.