Score one touchdown in the endzone for the Washington Redskins. After a 17 year court battle over their trademark, which depicts a drawing of an Indian along with their name Redskins, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit ruled that the plaintiffs waited way too long to challenge this mark.
A group of Native Americans had challenged the mark alleging it was disparaging to their ethnic group. Yet, the court held there was too great a delay between when the NFL team began using the mark in 1967 and when the mark was first challenged in this action back in 1992.
Unfortunately for the Redskins, the Court did not address the merits of the claim but based its decision on the team’s defense of laches. In the case of Pro Football v. Harjo, Judge David Tatel, writing for the Court, stated that the Redskins (I think I’ll just keep repeating and repeating that name) suffered great economic and trial prejudice because of the long lag time.
The trial clock had actually been set in 1984 when Mateo Romero, one of the Plaintiffs turned 18, the age of majority, and nothing happened between 1984 and 1992. The court deemed this time the Romero Delay Period, during which Edward Bennett Williams, the team’s former president, unfortunately died. Williams had reportedly met with Native Americans to get their opinions on the team’s mark but he could no longer testify. The site IPWatchdog has an excellent article on the case for all of those who want the minutiae attached to it.
While this decision does not address the merits of the case, it does put it to rest but that is not enough for Intellectual Property attorneys. At some point in this ridiculously politically correct society of ours why does freedom of speech and expression always take a back seat to the hurt feelings of a chosen few seeking their 15 minutes in the spotlight? The word Indian dates back to the 15th century when Christopher Columbus mistakenly thought he landed on a sub-continent of India and thereby referred to the indigenous people of the new land as Indians. What is disparaging about that?
Perhaps as a New Yorker I should be insulted if someone from the south calls me a Yankee. However, as an intelligent woman I am not; in fact, I am proud to be a Yankee, now if only Derek Jeter would call!