Usually, the wheels of justice move slowly. Sometimes, they don’t.
Only 15 days after a hearing regarding the 2014 decision of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that the Washington trademarks are disparaging to Native Americans, a federal judge has agreed.
Via Ian Shapira of the Washington Post, Judge Gerald Bruce Lee affirmed the ruling that the team’s name and logo should not have federal trademark protection.
“This is a huge victory,” Jesse Witten, one of the lawyers for the parties fighting the team, told the Post. “Getting this ruling from a U.S. District judge is a watershed event.”
But the money surely will keep flowing to fight the outcome. The team has automatic appeal rights to the next highest court, followed by the right to try to convince the Supreme Court to take up the case.
“The team has been fighting this case so hard and leaving no stone unturned and scorching every square inch of earth that it’s hard to imagine they will not appeal,” Witten said.
As the Post notes, even if the team exhausts all appeals and ultimately loses, it will still hold trademark rights under state law. But the process of enforcing those trademarks would become more cumbersome, allowing anyone from sea to shining sea to sell products containing the team’s name and logo, without fear of enforcement via federal law.
That’s the ultimate irony in this case. Those who want to change the name are trying to pressure Washington to do so by securing for anyone and everyone the ability to profit from the sale of items carrying the name and logo.
Of course, the fight is bigger than that. Apart from whether third parties would start peddling merchandise that no longer infringes on the franchise’s federal rights but that nevertheless carries a disparaging name or logo, an ultimate defeat in federal court could push the broader debate about the name closer to critical mass, making a change more inevitable.