Washington Commanders: How did they keep the new name secret for so long?

Expert explains how entities work behind scenes on trademarks and branding

The Washington Football Team on Wednesday unveiled its much-anticipated new name, the Washington Commanders, a year and a half after ditching its longstanding brand, the Washington Redskins.

While there was a leak or two right before the announcement, the NFL franchise was able to keep its new moniker a tightly held secret – despite all that is involved with setting up a brand and trademarking it in stealth-like style.

FOX Business spoke with Monica Talley, head of the trademark and brand protection practice at specialty law firm Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox, who told us that D.C.'s professional football team did a good job of holding its cards close and explained how major brands are able to do so.

Talley says a lot is involved in the planning of selecting and securing a new trademark, and there are two ways that entities can go about their filings while flying under the radar.

One is to file with the U.S. patent and trademark office – which is easily searched and updated regularly – under the name of a different company. The other is to file in a foreign country that is party to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.

Washington Football Team

Washington Football Team tight end Ricky Seals-Jones catches a pass during an NFL football practice at Inova Sports Performance Center in Ashburn, Virginia, Thursday, June 10, 2021.  (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez / AP Newsroom)


Filing in a foreign nation gives entities the benefit of being able to call dibs on the name in a country that might not have such easily obtained records as the U.S., and then owners can file within six months at the U.S. patent office after doing some homework.

The latter plan "buys you six months of time to figure out options, like registering your domain names or getting your social media handles," Talley says. "All the kinds of things you need to take care of in addition to making sure that the name is well-received by your focus groups and that you can get all the things that go into branding."

Talley said that a firm in the situation of Washington's NFL franchise would likely file to register multiple names in its search and then vet them as part of its focus groups and marketing research.

Washington Redskins

A Washington Redskins helmet before the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins Jan. 3, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)


For any nostalgic fans still itching for Redskins merchandise, Talley says don't bet on being able to buy anything new. The Washington Commanders franchise still owns the rights to the Washington Football Team and Washington Redskins trademarks, meaning it could come after anyone seeking to profit off using its former monikers.