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2 Reasons The Washington Redskins Will Change Their Name, And 2 Reasons They Won't

The United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled the football team's trademark on the name "Redskins." The team says they will appeal the decisions. Here's what might happen next.

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1. Owner Daniel Snyder's Legacy

The decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that the name is "disparaging to Native Americans" is the second time in as many months that the U.S. government has now involved itself twice in the debate over the racial tones of the Washington football team moniker.

Last month, 50 U.S. senators sent NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a letter pleading that the league step in and change the name. Sen. Harry Reid also compared Daniel Snyder to, you guessed it, Donald Sterling.

By continuing to defend the name, Snyder risks inextricably aligning himself with the likes of Sterling. If he agreed to change the name, he could salvage what is left of his reputation.

Owner Dan Snyder's position to date has been to ignore the problem and rely on the fact that he inherited the name when he bought the team. But by appealing the ruling, the Redskins owner won't have the luxury of continuing to make that excuse. If he wins his appeal, more than ever he becomes the person responsible for the name.

Let's face it: There is not much positive about Snyder-era Redskins. The team's overall record under his ownership is 104-136 since Snyder took over in 1999. He has gone through 8 coaches in 14 seasons. And he once even sued his season-ticket holders who couldn't pay during the 2008–09 recession. Maybe this is a chance for some positive PR.


2. It Would Be Relatively Inexpensive

It costs $325 to register a trademark online, and the legal fees to complete the process wouldn't be more than double that. It's certainly not a big expense for a pro sports team to incur.

In fact, several pro sports teams have gone through the process recently. For example, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays became the Tampa Bay Rays in 2003; the Tampa Bay Buccaneers changed their logo last year; and the Washington Bullets changed their name to the less violent-sounding Washington Wizards in 1995.

"Monitoring the team's positive brand equity is key," sports law professor and lawyer Marc Edelman said. "But there are so many things [the Redskins] could do very easily without losing their history," for example, becoming the Washington Hogskins, Washington Red Hogs, or just Washington Hogs, something with a positive connection to the current team.

In fact, the longer this debate goes on, the more expensive it may be. Edelman says Drinker Biddle & Reath, the law firm representing the plaintiff who filed the case against the Redskins, is a well-known and respected firm that won't go down without a fight. That fight will surely cost the team a lot more than what it would cost to just trademark a new name.

1. They Don't Have To

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decision ends the team's trademark hold on the name but doesn't force it to stop doing business as the Redskins.

"There are certainly benefits to having a federal registration in a trademark. However, there is no obligation that any person or corporate entity must have a federal registration to use a mark in commerce," said Darren Heitner, sports attorney and owner of law firm Heitner Legal.

And, in actuality, the team can continue to operate without the official trademark pretty easily, said Heitner:

"It is clear that registration in place or not, the "Redskins" name is associated with the National Football League team. Without a federal registration, the team will still possess broad common law rights over the mark. This may be much to do about nothing. If the Washington, D.C., team's ownership wishes to continue to use the 'Redskins' mark in commerce, there is nothing in place to prevent it from conducting business as usual."

2. Appeals Have Worked Before

In 1999, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office did the very same thing to the Redskins. Four years later, the ruling was overturned.

In that 2003 federal ruling, the court concluded, "The [Board's] finding that the marks at issue 'may disparage' Native Americans is unsupported by substantial evidence, is logically flawed, and fails to apply the correct legal standard to its own findings of fact."

Shortly after the announcement of the trademark cancelations Wednesday, Bob Raskopf, the lawyer for the Redskins, put out a release stating that they believe they have as good a chance this time as they did in 2003 when they won the appeal.

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