House panel to consider probe into Redskins trademark decision

The House panel overseeing trademark law is considering a probe into the Patent and Trademark Office’s decision on Wednesday to revoke the Washington Redskins trademark.

Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on Intellectual Property, told The Hill on Wednesday that the panel would make a decision after the NFL team goes through the formal appeals process.

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“No comment on the decision, but the subcommittee will consider conducting a hearing on the subject once the appeal process is completed,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, praised the patent office's decision and said he didn’t see the need for a hearing.

“What are we going to hold a hearing on?” he said. “Whether the patent office is right or wrong?... I think its self evident that they’re right. It’s only a question of how fast we catch up to modern English.”

The decision to go ahead with a hearing would set the stage for a headline-grabbing session on the football team and its long-contested name, which many consider a racial slur against Native Americans.

A Trademark Trial and Appeal Board decision on Wednesday morning shocked NFL fans with its surprise 2-1 ruling that, if upheld, would strip the Landover, Md., team from claiming exclusive rights to its logo.

While the team would be able to continue using its name and logo on official merchandise, the ruling could open the floodgates to counterfeit competitors who would have few obstacles to sell their wares and take a bite out of the team’s profits. 

“It would have a dollars and cents effect,” said Nadler.

In its ruling, the federal board said that the team’s trademarks are “disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered” and should be canceled.

The team quickly pledged to appeal the ruling and pointed to a 2003 decision maintaining its right to use the name as proof that it will come out on top.

A number of Democratic lawmakers hailed the decision on Wednesday, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) urging owner Daniel Snyder to drop the name.

"A tradition of racism is all that that name leaves in its wake," Reid said.

Last month, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called for his panel to hold a hearing on the Redskins name, in hopes of pressing Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to change it.

Waxman called the name “derogatory” and said a hearing could be a “catalyst for action.”

“We could play a constructive role in challenging racism by asking Mr. Snyder and Mr. Goodell to explain in a public hearing how their actions are consistent with the public interest,” he said.

This story was last updated at 4:49 p.m.