VIA THE WASHINGTON POST:
The Supreme Court on Monday declined to revive a lawsuit on behalf of Native American activists who claimed that the Washington Washington Football Team’s team name is so offensive that it does not deserve trademark protection.
The court without comment refused to get involved in the long-running dispute. The decision essentially lets stand a lower court ruling that the activists waited too long to bring the challenge.
The team has been known as the Washington Football Team since 1933, when the name was changed from the Boston Braves. It became the Washington Washington Football Team in 1937, when the team moved south.
The lawsuit was filed in 1992, when seven activists challenged a Washington Football Team trademark issued in 1967. They won seven years later in a decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which said the name could be interpreted as offensive to Native Americans. The case is Harjo v. Pro-Football Inc.
Trademark law prohibits registration of a name that “may disparage . . . persons, living or dead, . . . or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”
The team appealed to federal court.
Judges at the district and circuit levels said the activists’ trademark cancellation claim was barred by the doctrine of laches, which serves as a defense against claims that should have been made long ago.
The activists argued that disparaging trademarks can be challenged at any time, citing a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. The decision was written by then-judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., who now sits on the Supreme Court.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said that was merely a “suggestion” of how to interpret the law.
The federal district judge who heard the lawsuit also said the activists had not proven that the name was disparaging.
The Supreme Court considered only the question of whether the suit was barred because of the passage of too much time.
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