The Obama administration joined a lawsuit opposing the Washington Redskins’ team trademark on Friday, filing court papers to defend the federal law that gives the government the power to deny recognition to trademarks it believes to be disparaging.
The Patent and Trademark Office’s appeals board had revoked the NFL team’s trademarks last year, finding that they were offensive and so they weren’t protected under federal law. The Justice Department said it agrees with them, and will fight a lawsuit by the team’s owners seeking to overturn the federal Lanham Act as a violation of free speech.
“I believe strongly in the rights of all Americans to celebrate and maintain their unique cultural heritage,” said Joyce R. Branda, an acting assistant attorney general.
“Going forward, we will strive to maintain the ability of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to make its own judgment on these matters, based on clear authorities established by law,” she added.
Mr. Obama hasn’t always intervened to defend laws. Most notably, his Justice Department refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in the courts.
But in this case his Justice Department said the law prohibiting offensive trademarks deserved backing.
Losing trademark protection doesn’t mean the Redskins must change their name, but it could make the name less lucrative because the team could have a tougher time enforcing its brand against counterfeiters.
Some Indians have argued the name is an outdated slur that should not be given federal protections.