Activists want Supreme Court to hear Redskins name case

Chris Rizo Sep. 16, 2009, 4:21pm

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)--The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to determine if the name of the Washington Redskins football team is offensive, potentially opening up legal challenges for other controversial monikers.

The lawsuit began in 1992, when a group of Native Americans sued the team, claiming that the Redskins name was too offensive to be protected by federal trademark law.

The plaintiffs cite the Lanham Act, which bars trademarks that "disparage" persons living or dead or bring them into disrepute.

"This is a derogatory term for Indians that sticks out like an anomaly," said Philip Mause, partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath, who is representing the group of Native Americans. "No other group still has to deal with this kind of a term being used."

The National Football League team has used the name since 1933. The trademark was first registered in 1967.

The Native American activists won an initial legal victory seven years after filing the lawsuit in a decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. The District of Columbia's NFL football franchise then appealed to the federal court.

Tossing the lawsuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said this year the group had taken too much time to challenge the name, noting that the statute of limitations had expired.

If four of the high court's justices wish for the case to be heard, the Supreme Court will take the case.

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