Patterico's Pontifications

1/9/2014

Patent and Trademark Office: The Term “Redskins” Is Offensive

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:35 am

None of their business? No, it is their business. That’s what they say:

The heated debate over the Washington Redskins name has now moved beyond living rooms and corporate offices to the U.S. government itself, with one agency making an unequivocal ruling that the term “Redskins” is offensive slang.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected an application to trademark the name “Redskins Hog Rind,” writing that the term “Redskins” is “a derogatory slang term that refers to, and is considered offensive by, American Indians.”

They haven’t applied the reasoning to the football team. Yet:

To determine what crosses the line, the agency looks at two questions: 1) the term’s likely meaning and use in the product’s context and 2) whether the phrase disparages a specific group of people.

Thus, many words have been approved in some circumstances and rejected in others.

The term “squaw,” for example, was ruled offensive when used for clothing and general retail but was approved for use with skiing equipment associated with “Squaw Valley.” And the PTO rejected the use of “Khoran” for a brand of alcohol, something that the Islamic holy book, the Quran, considers sinful. Actor Damon Wayans’ application for a clothing line called “Nigga” was rejected, as have been several applications to use even the phrase “the N word.” But a group protesting the phrase was allowed to trademark “Abolish the ‘N’ word.”

Likewise, the agency has permitted the term “redskin” when applied to potatoes or when directly applied to the football team, as in “The Redskins Broadcast Network.”

This is ripe for a study, submitting various trademark applications that are identical except for ideology. If only we could get, er, government funding for such a study! (Because everyone knows you need government money to study anything.) Oh, government doesn’t want to pay for that? Never mind then.

71 Responses to “Patent and Trademark Office: The Term “Redskins” Is Offensive”

  1. I have never thought this provision of the Lanham act would survive serious constitutional challenge.

    SPQR (768505)

  2. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected an application to trademark the name “Redskins Hog Rind,” writing that the term “Redskins” is “a derogatory slang term that refers to, and is considered offensive by, American Indians.”

    Really?

    In 2005, the Indian language scholar Ives Goddard of the Smithsonian Institution published a remarkable and consequential study of redskin’s early history. His findings shifted the dates for the word’s first appearance in print by more than a century and shed an awkward light on the contemporary debate. Goddard found, in summary, that “the actual origin of the word is entirely benign.”

    Redskin, he learned, had not emerged first in English or any European language. The English term, in fact, derived from Native American phrases involving the color red in combination with terms for flesh, skin, and man. These phrases were part of a racial vocabulary that Indians often used to designate themselves in opposition to others whom they (like the Europeans) called black, white, and so on.

    But the language into which those terms for Indians were first translated was French. The tribes among whom the proto forms of redskin first appeared lived in the area of the upper Mississippi River called Illinois country. Their extensive contact with French-speaking colonists, before the French pulled out of North America, led to these phrases being translated, in the 1760s, more or less literally as peau-rouge and only then into English as redskin. It bears mentioning that many such translators were mixed-blood Indians.

    Half a century later, redskin began circulating. It was used at the White House when President Madison requested that various Indian tribes steer clear of an alliance with Britain. No Ears, a chief of the Little Osages, spoke in reply and one of his statements was translated as, “I know the manners of the whites and the red skins.” Only in 2004, however, when the Papers of James Madison project at the University of Virginia reached the year 1812 did this and another use of redskin from the same meeting come to light.

    The word became even more well known when the Meskwaki chief Black Thunder delivered a speech at a treaty conference after the War of 1812. Black Thunder, whose words were translated by an interpreter, said that he would speak calmly and without fear, adding, “I turn to all, red skins and white skins, and challenge an accusation against me.”

    In the coming years, redskin became a key element of the English-language rhetoric used by Indians and Americans alike to speak about each other and to each other. Goddard mentions numerous Indian speeches that were translated and printed in English-language newspapers. From such speeches, Goddard observes, James Fenimore Cooper almost certainly learned the word, which he then began using in his novels in the 1820s.

    Goddard’s paper methodically describes the term’s early evolution, made possible by an unlikely abundance of documentation. “It is extremely unusual,” he wrote, “to be able to document the emergence of a vernacular expression in such exact and elucidative detail.”

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/lexicon_valley/2013/12/18/redskins_the_debate_over_the_washington_football_team_s_name_incorrectly.html

    J.P. (bd0246)

  3. my baby she’s a chippewa

    she’s a one of a kind!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NevytosR4XA

    happyfeet (8ce051)

  4. Perhaps we can get Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to expand their role of fine quality work into the social sciences arena. They have a political bent, apparently unlimited funds, and loooove to study and dramatically publicize things upon which they have already affixed a predetermined outcome.

    elissa (c8b349)

  5. Has anyone ever heard someone use the term “Redskins” as a derogatory term in the modern age?

    I have never once heard anyone refer to an American Indian as a redskin in any context.

    DejectedHead (a094a6)

  6. 5- You have never been in a Federal Penitentiary.

    mg (31009b)

  7. i find the federal government to be offensive in its current form & behavior…

    perhaps these worthies can do something about that, instead of wasting time on BS like this “issue”?

    (yeah, right… like *that’s* gonna happen %-)

    redc1c4 (abd49e)

  8. “6. 5- You have never been in a Federal Penitentiary.
    Comment by mg (31009b) — 1/9/2014 @ 8:56 am”

    So we should make decisions based upon the language that convicts use to insult each other?

    Mike Giles (760480)

  9. “President Obama.”

    Now that is truely an offensive phrase.

    Elephant Stone (9d30f3)

  10. It’s offensive to the American-Indians of the democrap party.

    The rest really could give a crap less.

    © Sponge (8110ec)

  11. 10. – SPOT. ON.

    That phrase should be removed because more than one person finds it offensive.

    2nd?

    © Sponge (8110ec)

  12. TIL, Red Man (the tobaccos) was the first to trademark any product with a reference to American Indians.

    nk (dbc370)

  13. Don’t break my pity balloon;
    If I want to be a victim, let me.

    nk (dbc370)

  14. Perhaps if Daniel Snyder puts a peanut logo on the helmets . . . .

    Thing is, as much as I hate to see the officious pricks on the left mess with tradition, it’s a bit difficult to fret about anything bad that happens to Mr Snyder.

    The helpful Dana (3e4784)

  15. The redskins formed warrior bands
    Who roamed their native lands
    But the left are aghast
    At this term from the past;
    They’ve got too much time on their hands!

    The Limerick Avenger (3e4784)

  16. I am more concerned that the Parent-Teacher Organization (all women), at my daughter’s middle school, has a cougar as its logo.

    nk (dbc370)

  17. This controversial subject matter presents a good opportunity to provide a YouTube link to the hilarious Season 1 theme song to the cult classic, “F Troop.”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVwFADi4Y38

    It was only on for two seasons, but most people don’t realize it didn’t get canceled due to ratings or creative differences, rather, it was canceled because the suits believed that filming the show simply required too much studio space (it necessitated several sets, both indoors and outdoors)that could otherwise be designated for other shows.

    Elephant Stone (9d30f3)

  18. i cannot believe we as a people are wasting our time on this. i am not faulting patrick for blogging about it, but this is something the market should settle, not the government.

    Aaron "Worthing" Walker (23789b)

  19. From memory, ES:

    Where Indian fights are colorful sights
    And nobody takes a licking
    Because paleface and redskin
    Both turn chicken.

    I wuvved that show.

    nk (dbc370)

  20. Cougars are generally more receptive than the young-ones, nk. This may be a dog whistle type of deal. Food 4 thought.

    elissa (c8b349)

  21. Snicker.

    nk (dbc370)

  22. 9 – No.

    mg (31009b)

  23. The left want to have fences mended,
    With In’juns who are so offended.
    Their time they waste,
    They have no case,
    Paying attention is not recommended.

    The Limerick Avenger (3e4784)

  24. People don’t have jobs
    And health care is all foul’d up;
    Why worry ’bout this?

    The Haiku Avenger (3e4784)

  25. No one cares about
    Offended whacko lib’ruls.
    Can we ignore them?

    The Haiku Avenger (3e4784)

  26. Let us not forget that the only way to combat insensitive remarks about Indians is to scrub all references to Indians from our society.

    It’s so PC, it’s very Meta.

    DejectedHead (a094a6)

  27. The problem with the Redskins
    Is they had only three wins!
    Shanny is gone,
    Jay Gruden ain’t Jon,
    And Griffin runs on bad pins!

    The Limerick Avenger (3e4784)

  28. Oh fun, Dejected Head! We can have renaming contests for Illinois, Indiana, Utah, Ohio, Massachusetts, etc.

    elissa (c8b349)

  29. And Wisconsin and Michigan are in trouble, too. They are both named after descriptive phrases in the Chippewa language.

    elissa (c8b349)

  30. Am I still allowed to sit Indian style ?

    Elephant Stone (9d30f3)

  31. Does our friend JD still live in Indiana ?
    Or must we now refer to it as Native Americana ?

    Elephant Stone (9d30f3)

  32. question: how is it “American Indians” are offended by a football team having used a term for decades, but not at all bothered by some hack politician claiming Indian status to help her win votes when she has nary a drop of Indian blood?

    where is the outrage over Fauxcahontas?

    redc1c4 (abd49e)

  33. I’m still trying to figure out why “Chinaman” is not the proper vernacular.

    CrustyB (5a646c)

  34. Breaking news on ESPN…

    Notre Dame has finally given in to the complaints from Irish-Americans that “Fighting Irish” is a negative stereotype. They promise to change the name of their team.

    Or whatever.

    Elephant Stone (9d30f3)

  35. and what about the Blackhawks hockey team?

    redc1c4 (abd49e)

  36. ==and what about the Blackhawks hockey team?==

    Well, they’re the Stanley Cup champions. :)

    elissa (c8b349)

  37. 31. Indian Style has already been rebranded as sitting “Criss Cross Apple Sauce”

    DejectedHead (a094a6)

  38. Let us not forget that it was the Democratic Party through Andrew “JackAss” Jackson that gave us the Trail of Tears story for the history books.

    All while ignoring a Supreme Court ruling.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    DejectedHead (a094a6)

  39. Blackhawks are the name of an Indian tribe.

    Redskins is a kind of semi-derogatory name for American Indians, as they say in F-Troop theme song “Paleface and Redskin, both are chicken!”

    It was set in 1864. So: “The end of the Civil War was near…”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F_Troop has all he lyrics.

    I had no idea that half of the show was shot in black and white and half of it in color. You couldn’t tell the difference on the television(s) we had. And I didn’t realize it only ran two seasons. The seasons were longer then. 65 episodes would now be 3 seasons.

    I had no idea that the words of the song only played in the first season. I don’t think it was that way in syndication.

    So the patent and trademark office said it could be used for something related to something old – like the Washington Redskins football team – or in circumstances where it mean people or Indians, anyway.

    And it’s not really American Indians who are offended by the word Redskin.

    Sammy Finkelman (28600b)

  40. I note a few things about the second quote:
    -it borders on implying that the term is appropriate in the context of a football team;
    -it recognizes that context makes a difference.

    But if any current use were offensive, hog rinds would be it.
    And if any use be complimentary, a football team is it, since the most positive connotations are closely associated with football.
    (When you think of football, are you more likely to think of fast, strong, and brave players or to think of people getting scalped?)

    ibidem (8629e5)

  41. Patents and trademarks will be denied if deemed “offensive?”

    I wonder what N.W.A. would think of that? Will all such groups lose trademark protection and/or future ones be denied?

    ras (be1e0d)

  42. Clarification: I should have typed:

    “So the patent and trademark office said it could be used for something related to something old – like the Washington Redskins football team – but not something new, in circumstances where it means people, or Indians, anyway.”

    The patent and trademarls office didn’t actually say that.

    I’m interpreting what they said – well what CNN says:

    Federal law prohibits trademarking any term that may be immoral, scandalous or may disparage another person. To determine what crosses the line, the agency looks at two questions: 1) the term’s likely meaning and use in the product’s context and 2) whether the phrase disparages a specific group of people.

    Thus, many words have been approved in some circumstances and rejected in others.

    Sammy Finkelman (28600b)

  43. ‘Thus, many words have been approved in some circumstances and rejected in others.’

    Such a broad definition allows these government weenies to do whatever the want when applying it to conservatives or anybody else they don’t really like, or really don’t like.

    TimothyJ (a33d78)

  44. Am I the only one who thinks that the Patent and Trademark Office should be in the business of registering patents and trademarks and not in the business of censuring speech?

    I mean, isn’t that trademark essentially a First Amendment issue where the government said “you can’t say this?” Or even “you can say this but we won’t protect your right to say it?”

    Whether the name is “offensive” or not is not the issue to me. What is the issue is a government agency telling someone they cannot say something.

    gitarcarver (71ca11)

  45. From the link:

    Federal law prohibits trademarking any term that may be immoral, scandalous or may disparage another person. To determine what crosses the line, the agency looks at two questions: 1) the term’s likely meaning and use in the product’s context and 2) whether the phrase disparages a specific group of people.

    If this is the case, then they’re exceeding their statutory authority. Federal law prohibits trademarking a term that disparages a person, i.e. an individual, so the agency wrote regulations that expanded that power to ban terms they decided disparaged groups of people.

    The term “squaw,” for example, was ruled offensive when used for clothing and general retail but was approved for use with skiing equipment associated with “Squaw Valley.”

    Do these people have a clue about who, exactly, Squaw Valley was named after? Do they think it was named after its population of Baptist men?

    Likewise, the agency has permitted the term “redskin” when applied to potatoes…

    What color are the pork rinds (skins)? Or are they really spicy; red hot?

    Steve57 (613188)

  46. Also from the link:

    In addition the agency pointed to news articles about Native American challenges to the Redskins name, including the policy of the National Congress of American Indians, which officially refers to the team as the “R*dskins” or “R Word”.

    So a bunch of activists in and out of the MFM can engage in astroturfing and create a controversy out of thin air over any name they want, and their fellow Stalinists in the PTO will dutifully cherry pick their sources when acting in their appropriated role as language police.

    Steve57 (613188)

  47. In the meantime, the Nidal Hasans of America are given wide latitude. Why? Because we’re a caring, loving, beautiful, compassionate, tolerant, loving, caring, beautiful, compassionate, tolerant — and did I say compassionate? — society.

    Mark (58ea35)

  48. What pork rinds? Has anybody heard of them before this? Who’s making them, who’s marketing them? Nobody we know of. All we have is a trademark application, by a lawyer, with an undisclosed client. The denial of which created a precedent of sorts inside the Patent and Trademark Office. Hmm? Kind of like Jerry Brown’s non-defense of Prop 8 created a precedent in California? Wink.

    nk (dbc370)

  49. The heated debate over the Washington Redskins name has now moved beyond living rooms…

    Has anyone ever had even the mildest debate of the Washington Redskins name?

    Maybe Pajama Boy might try to bring it up, but besides him?

    Steve57 (613188)

  50. Comment by Steve57 (613188) — 1/9/2014 @ 8:04 pm

    Has anyone ever had even the mildest debate of the Washington Redskins name?

    That could only happen on talk radio, not in person.

    And maybe you could have a Point/Counterpoint on TV.

    And maybe a mostly authoritarian lecture or discussion in an academic setting.

    And even then it’s mostly that logically they shouldn’t use that name, because doesn’t it violate their principles, or shouldn’t it?

    Sammy Finkelman (28600b)

  51. A very dark day for peanuts and potatoes.

    Dan S (00fc90)

  52. What about Negro, that’s also fofensive; right?

    So the United Negro College Fund will be force to change their name?

    And the NAACP, Colored People is also offensive; so they’ll have to change too, right?

    No? Why not? they’;re using outdated and offensive terms; and anyone using offensive and outdated terms MUST change their name immediately or be called evil… right?

    Hey, if we can’t agree that “Negro” is offensive then I’ll be surprised… if we do agree lets get them to change before the “Redskins” to show them how it’s handled.

    Or do liberal groups get a pass? Yeah, that doesn’t work for me; I think this needs be be applied evenly for people to think you’re serious.

    So liberal groups, you go first.

    gekkobear (cb2fb6)

  53. It’s kind of like having Donald Trump lecture on the crippling effects of poverty.
    Or President Obama telling us about the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions.

    Or Meryl Streep telling us how the patriarchy of Hollywood keeps the sisterhood down.

    http://movies.msn.com/movies/article.aspx?news=846302&ocid=ansent11

    Rings a little hollow.

    papertiger (c2d6da)

  54. “I have never thought this provision of the Lanham act would survive serious constitutional challenge.”

    Why? What kind of first amendment right do people have to trademark something and effectively silence other speech?

    ““So the patent and trademark office said it could be used for something related to something old – like the Washington Redskins football team – but not something new, in circumstances where it means people, or Indians, anyway.””

    Another issue is that the PTO looks at things when the application is filed. So “redskins” may not have been offensive when the football team filed its application, but is now.

    d.wildst (ae20f1)

  55. It isn’t offensive now, either. Except to those that spend their lives searching for outrage, the professional grievance pimps.

    JD (5c1832)

  56. d.wildst, your first comment makes no sense. A trademark does not silence anyone’s speech at all. My comment was referring to the provision that allows denial of registration of offensive trademarks. That’s viewpoint discrimination and should be evaluated under strict scrutiny in current First Amendment precedent.

    SPQR (768505)

  57. In case I wasn’t clear before. I believe this was a phony application, intended and wanted by the applicant to be turned down, to create some kind of precedent. I don’t think there are are any pork rinds to be sold. I think the applicant is one of the grievance-mongers who have been going after the Washington Redskins.

    nk (dbc370)

  58. Good point, nk.

    SPQR (768505)

  59. If the Redskins were playing this weekend (meaning they made the playoffs) this complaint would be a non-starter….

    And isn’t the name “Indians” the product of the world’s worst navigator who tried to sail to India, but bumped into some other place and thinking he was actually at India, started calling the folk who were already there “Indians”? And it seems to have stuck, not to mention be accepted.

    The perpetually aggrieved are a pain in the a$$.

    gramps, the original (64b8ca)

  60. ” A trademark does not silence anyone’s speech at all.”

    What’s the point of registering a trademark if not to keep people from using your name?

    “My comment was referring to the provision that allows denial of registration of offensive trademarks. That’s viewpoint discrimination and should be evaluated under strict scrutiny in current First Amendment precedent.”

    That assumes that someone has the first amendment right to register a trademark and earn the protections of the Lanham Act.

    d.wildst (ae20f1)

  61. 60. …And isn’t the name “Indians” the product of the world’s worst navigator who tried to sail to India, but bumped into some other place and thinking he was actually at India, started calling the folk who were already there “Indians”? And it seems to have stuck, not to mention be accepted…

    Comment by gramps, the original (64b8ca) — 1/10/2014 @ 7:26 pm

    The reason the name stuck, and became accepted, was because Colombus wasn’t the world’s worst navigator. Nobody thought there was anything between Europe and Asia, if you sailed west from Spain.

    As a matter of fact, that’s why nobody tried it. Since there was nothing in between, there’d be no place to take on food and water. And you simply couldn’t carry enough supplies.

    In any case if Colombus was the world’s worst navigator none of his men would have volunteered to be left behind to start a settlement on Hispaniola. They’d have known the world’s worst navigator would never find his way back there again.

    Colombus may not have known where “there” was, but he could navigate his way back precisely to where he’d have been, no problem. Even if he thought “there” was Asia at first, he could always chart his course back to the precise spot he needed to return to.

    The world’s worst navigator couldn’t do that.

    Steve57 (f8d67f)

  62. d.wildst, first of all a trademark does not stop anyone from using your mark. It stops people from using your mark in such a way that their use implies affiliation, sponsorship or identity.

    Second, I don’t have a first amendment right to a trademark. I have a first amendment right not to have the government discriminate against me based on viewpoint. Which refusing to register a mark because someone is “offended” is.

    SPQR (768505)

  63. “It stops people from using your mark in such a way that their use implies affiliation, sponsorship or identity.”

    Or dilutes your mark. So yes, the point is to stop other speech.

    ” I have a first amendment right not to have the government discriminate against me based on viewpoint. Which refusing to register a mark because someone is “offended” is.”

    You still have the full first amendment right to use the offensive mark. You just can’t sue other people using it.

    d.wildst (ae20f1)

  64. 56. It isn’t offensive now, either. Except to those that spend their lives searching for outrage, the professional grievance pimps.

    Comment by JD (5c1832) — 1/10/2014 @ 6:03 pm

    And, if they fail to find the outrage they’re looking for, manufacturing it.

    Steve57 (f8d67f)

  65. Notice how it simply asserts that Redskins is offensive.

    JD (8686be)

  66. Whatever the statutory test is. We’re discussing the provision of the Lanham Act as it applies to any mark, not the fact that nobody in their right minds these days will refer to a native american as a ‘Redskin.’

    d.wildst (ae20f1)

  67. Sigh. I can say “Coca Cola rots your teeth” all day long. I can’t say “nk’s Genuine Original Coca-Cola is better than d.wildst’s Coca-Cola which is made from dead skunks”. Neither can I say, “Hey little girl, do you want to get into my car? I have Coca-Cola”. Three different situations, only one prohibited by trademark law. “Stop other speech” is kind of meaningless by itself.

    nk (dbc370)

  68. d.wildst, you have failed to rebute my point.

    SPQR (768505)

  69. I suspect d.wildst to be imdw, SPQR. It’s his style.

    nk (dbc370)

  70. “d.wildst, you have failed to rebute my point.”

    The problem is that refusing to register a mark in no way prevents the applicant from using it. No speech has been abridged.

    Also I’m not so sure it would be a strict scrutiny question even if it there was a speech issue. A trademark is commercial speech, and would get that standard of review.

    d.wildst (ae20f1)


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