In its ruling Wednesday that it will no longer defend the Washington National Football League club’s exclusive right to the term “Redskins,” the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office established a standard that is simultaneously frightening and ridiculous.
Citing the officially offended sensibilities of five — count ’em, five! — American Indians, the office canceled the team’s protections against infringement, meaning non-licensed gear bearing the team’s name. (Importantly, the team’s logo was not affected by the ruling.)
We’ll let others rehearse the details elsewhere while noting these pivotal details:
First, the team will appeal the ruling in federal court, as it did the first time this came up. Meanwhile, it would be neither outrageous nor unexpected for a judge to issue a stay of the bureaucracy’s ruling.
Second, even though the ruling was clearly within the Patent and Trademark Office’s jurisdiction to prohibit registered names that are disparaging, scandalous, contemptuous or disreputable — and, arguably, the public’s tolerance for “Redskins” is slipping — the notion that five individuals can force their view on a billion-dollar private-sector enterprise should give us pause.
Who’s next? Baseball teams in Atlanta and Cleveland, obviously. Given the IRS’s low regard — under the influence of former hotshot Lois Lerner, anyway — for the term “Patriots,” the New England NFL club better watch itself. “Cowboys,” too, suffered diminished esteem during the George W. Bush administration.
How about fans of teams from the Old South suffering all over again at the hands of the rich and oversupplied Yankees? And does anyone doubt we could round up five, seven or even a dozen descendants of survivors of 17th Century pirates raids to decry “Buccaneers”?
Never mind that the proper adjudication of such offenses, if offenses they are, is in the marketplace, where regulation is swift, certain and brutal, and I have an old Devil Rays ball cap to prove it.