The Chicago Blackhawks declined to comment about the Washington Redskins’ loss of trademark protection Wednesday, but an expert said there’s little reason to believe the hockey team’s name and Indian head logo could face similar jeopardy.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office found in a 2-to-1 decision that trademarks covering the Redskins’ name and associated symbols disparaged American Indians, and thus must be canceled under federal law. The team vowed to appeal, noting it had won a similar legal case a decade ago.
The trademark decision turned on a lengthy record of objections to the name by the National Congress of American Indians, which as early as the 1960s took issue with the team’s use of the word Redskins.
The two judges who opted to cancel the trademark said the actions by the congress were evidence that “a substantial composite” of American Indians found the names and logos to be disparaging.
There appears to be no similar record of opposition to the Blackhawks’ name and logo, though the congress last year passed a resolution condemning all “race-based stereotypes” used by sports teams. A congress representative could not be reached for this story.
Christine Farley, an intellectual property specialist at American University Washington College of Law, said the question of disparaging trademarks has focused on whether particular groups take offense — in the case of the Redskins, American Indians as a whole.
With the Blackhawks, the relevant parties are not so clear.
The name refers not to a tribe but a man, a 19th-century leader of Sauk and Fox Indians in Illinois. He resisted the arrival of settlers and soldiers, and while ultimately defeated, came to be viewed as the epitome of valor by many white Americans.
The Sauk and Fox tribes today are based in Iowa and Oklahoma, and tribal leaders did not respond to calls from the Tribune Wednesday. But Andrew Johnson of the American Indian Center of Chicago, which has formed close ties with the Blackhawks in recent years, said the center has checked with the tribes and they had no objection to the team’s name and logo.
Even if they did, Farley said complaints carry weight only if they are made at the time something is trademarked — which for the Blackhawks’ name and Indian head symbol was 1969, according to the patent office’s database.
“The question isn’t whether people today find it disparaging,” she said. “The question is whether Native Americans find it disparaging at the time of registration.”
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