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Name game

Redskins, offended Indians face off in trademark dispute

Posted: Wednesday July 23, 2003 8:31 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Washington Redskins, again confronted by American Indians who find the team's name offensive, asked a judge to overturn a ruling that revoked the team's federal trademark protection.

"My clients honor -- they don't ridicule," said Redskins lawyer Robert Raskopf, echoing the NFL team's long-held contention that its use of the nickname is meant as a tribute.

Seven American Indians successfully argued otherwise in 1999, when the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board granted their petition to cancel the team's trademark registrations because of a federal law that prohibits registering "disparaging" names.

The Redskins appealed, and U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly heard the case Wednesday. A ruling is not expected for a few weeks, after Kollar-Kotelly has had time to review a sealed deposition by Redskins owner Dan Snyder regarding the case's possible financial impact.

If the team loses the case, it stands to lose its exclusive rights to market the Redskins name, particularly through merchandise. The petitioners hope this would lead Snyder to change the nickname, although he has pledged not to do so.

Raskopf was unrelenting in his criticism of the trademark board, telling Kollar-Kotelly that "they obviously lack the ability to separate good evidence from bad." He attacked the petitioners' use of dictionary definitions of "redskin," said a phone survey presented as evidence was flawed and that the seven petitioners were not sufficiently representative of the American Indian population.

"It can't be seven people. It can't be 100 people. It can't be 1,000 people," Raskopf said. "There are 2.41 million Native Americans."

The lead petitioner, Suzan Shown Harjo, said the team has yet to produce an American Indian that favors the team's nickname since the petition was first filed in 1992.

"The largest Native American organizations support not only our position against the name, but our side in the suit," Harjo said. "It's been more than 11 years, and they've yet to produce any Native American people."

The team first registered the Redskins nickname in 1967, and Raskopf argued there was a "ridiculously long" period of 25 years before the petition was filed against it. Raskopf said the sealed financial evidence shows the Redskins would suffer "every imaginable loss you can think of" if they no longer had the exclusivity of the brand they had been marketing for 36 years.

Michael Lindsay, lawyer for the petitioners, claimed the team would suffer minimal financial impact, but Kollar-Kotelly was skeptical of his premise.

"If it doesn't make any difference," the judge said, "then why do people register?"

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