DOJ intervenes in trademark dispute against Washington Redskins

FILE PHOTO - State Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, right, gestures as Del. David Ramadan, R-Prince William, left listens during a news conference by state legislators voicing support for the Washington Redskins at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Monday, June 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

WASHINGTON (WAVY) – The Department of Justice got involved Friday in the court argument whether the Washington Redskins should be able to trademark the team’s name stating it will step in to defend federal trademark laws, according to a news release from the DOJ.

The department is not saying whether Washington’s nickname should be changed – although Attorney General Eric Holder has said in the past the football team’s moniker is “offensive.” In the brief, the government said it is intervening to face Washington’s claim that the Lanham Act, which is preventing the trademarks, is unconstitutional. The Justice Department filed a notice of intervention Jan. 9 telling the court in the Eastern District of Virginia that it would defend the federal authorities of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

“The Department of Justice is dedicated to defending the constitutionality of the important statute ensuring that trademark issues involving disparaging and derogatory language are dealt with fairly,” said Joyce R. Branda, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division.

The case – Pro-Football, Inc. v. Amanda Blackhorse, et al. – started in August 2006 when five Native Americans, Blackhorse, Marcus Briggs, Philip Gover, Jillian Pappan and Courtney Tsotigh, wanted the cancellation of six Washington Redskins trademark registrations under the Lanham Act, the main federal law outlawing false advertising. They said the trademarks were disparaging to Native Americans. A TTAB panel agreed in a June 18, 2014 decision that the registrations should be canceled.

Pro-Football Inc., which owns the Washington team, filed a complaint a month later in District Court against the five people. The company is challenging the legality of Lanham stating the act violates the First Amendment of the Constitution.



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