DOJ intervenes in Redskins court fight
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The Justice Department is stepping into a court fight over whether the Washington Redskins can legally trademark their name.

At issue is a ruling by the Patent and Trademark Office that stripped the team of several trademarks, calling the name "Redskins" offensive to Native Americans.


The Justice Department’s notice, filed Friday and posted publicly by the National Law Journal, doesn’t take a stance over whether the team’s trademarked name and logo should be canceled. But the DOJ will defend the statute that influenced that ruling, which bars companies from registering certain offensive trademarks. 

In June, the Patent Office canceled six of the team’s trademarks that include the term “Redskins” for flouting that law. The ruling found that five Native American plaintiffs proved that the term was disparaging, giving the Patent Office grounds to cancel it.

The Washington Redskins appealed the decision in August to a federal judge, arguing that the law and its application violates the team’s First Amendment right to free speech.

The team’s statement, posted on the National Football League’s website, said that “the team has been unfairly deprived of its valuable and long-held intellectual property rights in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

The team still holds the trademarks until the end of the appeals process. Law professors told The Hill after the June ruling that even if the ruling stands, the team won’t lose all of its protections, specifically rights to its logo without the term “Redskins.” That would allow the team to challenge any unauthorized merchandizing that used the logo.

A fact sheet released with the June ruling also says that the Patent Office decision wouldn’t force the team to change its name or stop using the trademarks and that other protections could apply even if the trademark is canceled.

Because the team plays just outside the nation's capital, the trademark controversy is a contentious issue for politicians.

Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderThe shifting impeachment positions of Jonathan Turley Pelosi refers to Sinclair's Rosen as 'Mr. Republican Talking Points' over whistleblower question Krystal Ball: Billionaires panicking over Sanders candidacy MORE said in July on ABC’s “This Week” that the name “ought to be changed” and is “offensive.”

President Obama told The Associated Press in 2013 that he’d “think about changing” the name if he owned the team.

Virginia Senate candidate Ed Gillespie (R), though, released an advertisement supporting the team’s name during his failed 2014 bid to replace Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Watchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat MORE (D-Va.).