Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, through a holding company, abandoned his pursuit of obtaining a trademark for the term “Warriors” in 2019 and ultimately lost the chance for registering the mark earlier this year — a move that could complicate the team’s potential rebrand as officials conduct a review of its name.
As part of any rebranding effort, a trademark would be needed for the team to own rights to the image. Records from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office show that Mr. Snyder had an opportunity to trademark “Warriors” last year, after the reopening of a 2007 case in which he filed to own the moniker. But Mr. Snyder did not respond to the trademark office, answer an opposition claim or file an appeal when the judgment was issued against his holding company, Washington Football Inc.
As the Redskins review their name, the “Washington Warriors” has emerged as a popular alternative for if, or when, the team rebrands. One local radio host even speculated that the name was the front-runner within the team’s headquarters.
But experts point to multiple issues that could make it difficult to use that moniker.
The Redskins could face a string of opposition in their path to secure a new name. Their primary threat is trademark squatters — people who register a host of trademarks to potentially be bought out by bigger companies.
That concept, experts say, could slow the process as the Redskins try to move to rebrand, perhaps before the scheduled start of the 2020 season in less than two months.
“By failing to adopt a different name earlier and obtain trademark rights through use in that different name, the Washington Redskins have made their job of choosing a new name more difficult,” said Joshua Sarnoff, a law professor at DePaul University who has served as a scholar at the trademark office. “Others have been free to adopt, use and trademark names that the Redskins might now want, even if those names were chosen in anticipation of the Redskins seeking a different name in the future.”
Snyder’s Warriors pursuit
Under Washington Football Inc., Mr. Snyder has applied for Warriors-related trademarks three times.
The first two applications were filed in March 2000, when Mr. Snyder, using Redskins attorneys, attempted to secure both “Washington Warriors” and “Warriors.” The paperwork was filed months after Mr. Snyder held a press conference in 1999 declaring his intention to establish an Arena Football League team named the Washington Warriors, complete with a logo and helmet design featuring a white and gold arrow with feathers.
But both claims, according to records, were ultimately squashed, even though Mr. Snyder’s applications for each were initially approved. In 2005, and subsequently in 2007, the trademark office deemed each claim abandoned because he failed to submit evidence he was using either mark or didn’t file for an extension.
Just four months after the last ruling, Mr. Snyder again sought a trademark registration for “Warriors” on the basis for “entertainment in the nature of football games” and various football memorabilia such as hats, T-shirts and jerseys. Only this time, Mr. Snyder’s claim was “suspended,” which occurs when the trademark office halts a case because the trademark could be in conflict with a prior application.
That process took 11 years. Finally, in April 2019, the trademark office sent a letter to the Redskins’ headquarters in Ashburn, Virginia, notifying that Mr. Snyder had six months to respond if he was still interested in “Warriors.” By October, with no correspondence, the trademark office issued a “partial abandonment,” ruling he could trademark Warriors only related to football — not memorabilia. It then allowed the case to continue, giving others the opportunity to challenge the trademark.
In that phase, an Alexandria man stood in the way — using Mr. Snyder’s words against him.
Martin McCaulay, 61, fits the classic description of a trademark squatter. According to trademark office records, Mr. McCaulay has filed 40 applications — 26 of which are considered “live,” which means granted, suspended or under review. Mr. McCaulay’s trademarks include the Washington Redtailed Hawks, Washington Americans, Washington Federals and Washington Monuments.
Mr. McCaulay also has an interest in Warriors, filing for a “Washington Warriors” trademark in July 2015. The trademark office suspended his application, but with his case not shut, it led him to file an opposition claim against Mr. Snyder in December.
In his objection, Mr. McCaulay argued that Mr. Snyder never intended in “good faith” to use Warriors, in part because of Mr. Snyder’s famous remarks in 2013 in which he vowed to never change the Redskins’ name.
With no response to Mr. McCaulay’s opposition, Mr. Snyder defaulted on March 2.
The Washington Warriors trademark is now suspended and under review, so if Mr. Snyder or the Redskins want to pursue it again, they will have to “get in line,” Mr. McCaulay said. According to the trademark office’s website, there are 54 registered trademarks and eight pending applications between “Warrior” and “Warriors.”
In response to questions about Mr. Snyder’s interest in Warriors, a Redskins spokesman said, “Mr. Snyder is refraining from all public comment until the name change review has been completed.”
Mr. McCaulay has been waiting for this moment.
As the Redskins brainstorm ideas, part of the process will entail making sure that no one else has trademarked their next name. If someone has, legal experts say, then the Redskins have three main options: try to buy out the trademark, file their own trademark and challenge the existing claim in court, or settle on another name.
Mr. McCaulay, though, has tried to ensure he has already picked the right name.
The actuary started filing trademarks in 2014. He said he thought the Redskins could one day be in a position where they were forced to change their name, and he started buying names in the hope that it would happen.
American University law professor and lawyer Victoria Phillips said trademark squatters “generally” don’t have a bona fide intention to use the trademark, meaning the team could have an argument to challenge it.
But that takes time, and given the pressure the Redskins face from activists and corporations to make a change quickly, it could be easier — and quicker — to pay off someone.
“It’s tricky,” Ms. Phillips said. “The review is likely not about the morality of [Washington’s] name. It’s, ‘What on earth are we going to call this team and what’s our business plan moving forward?’ As you see, it could take some time. And it’s cost-benefit decisions like, ‘Oof, we could get into a two-year litigation and what are we going to do then? … Do we find something totally clean or someone we can buy out?’”
Taking it a step further, Mr. McCaulay bought and sold his own customized merchandise featuring his own trademarks, such as T-shirts for the “Washington Redtailed Hawks.” He even has two websites related to football, though one is as bare-bones as listing a few basic rules of football, including this sentence: “The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.”
Still, Mr. McCaulay was adamant that he had established the grounds for good faith with his trademarks.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “My trademarks have been in use for five years. If the Redskins now want to be a trademark bully and want to get my trademarks canceled, I’m not sure what their standing is. … Mine are different because I actually use them all.”
Redtails pose issues, too
“Warriors” might not present the only legal hurdle for the Redskins. The trademark for “Washington Redtails,” which oddsmakers peg as a 3-1 favorite to become the name, was applied for in February and is in the opposition stage, the period when those who take issue with the application can protest it.
Deron Hogans and Thaniel van Amerongen, two former colleagues, said they applied for the Redtails to create a “modern sports franchise,” whether that is by becoming involved in esports, youth sports or pro-am. Speaking to The Washington Times, they insisted that they did not try to trademark the term to sell it off to the Redskins.
“When we started this, I don’t think Thaniel and I would have thought in a thousand years [that] the question of whether the Redskins will change their name would be a legitimate conversation, to the point where we would be involved in this at this level,” Mr. Hogans said.
“The past week, we’ve both been humbly surprised continually how quickly this has evolved,” Mr. van Amerongen said.
First, they will have to secure the trademark — and that, too, is set up for a legal battle.
On Sunday, Mr. McCaulay was granted an extension to file an opposition. He maintains he has rights to the Redtails because “if you look up redtail in the dictionary, it says red-tailed hawk.” Mr. Hogans said he does not agree with that interpretation and is willing to fight it. He said he has saved up money for legal fees to hire an attorney.
Separately, Mr. McCaulay filed his trademark application for the “Washington Redtails” recently.
Since July 3, when the Redskins announced their review, there has been a flurry of trademark applications from people all over the country. David Woods of Alexandria, Virginia, filed for the “Washington Freedom Fighters.” Richard Garrison of Los Angeles went for the “Washington Braves Professional Football Team.” Raymond Luchi? The Santa Rosa, California, resident applied for the “Washington Radskins.”
Records show “Redhawks,” another floated fan name, and “Redhawk” have nine registered marks and one pending application. For “Red Wolves” and “Red Wolf,” there are 19 cases — 12 registered and seven pending.
But should Mr. Hogans and Mr. van Amerongen prevail with Redtails, the duo said, they will listen if the Redskins are interested in the name.
“If they’re coming to us, they probably have some vision already,” Mr. van Amerongen said. “We’ll take it from there.”
• Matthew Paras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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