Washington NFL trademark issues complicate Redskins name change

It’s unclear if the name change will take effect in time for the 2020 season

A brewing fight over potential team name trademarks could complicate the Washington Redskins’ decision to retire its current nickname and logo.

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The franchise’s announcement Monday of plans to rebrand following criticism from several corporate sponsors did not include any details about its potential future mascot. The unveiling was delayed because team owner Dan Snyder’s preferred replacement name is subject to trademark issues, though it's unclear if the complications are related to existing ownership of the name or the NFL team's application process, the Washington Post reported.

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Snyder can either pursue legal action to address trademark concerns on his desired team name or pay to acquire the trademark from its current owner. If Snyder attempts to acquire trademarked names, the cost will likely be in the hundreds of thousands rather than the millions of dollars, Josh Gerben, a trademark attorney and founder of Gerben Law Firm, told FOX Business.

“The name of an NFL team needs to carry as little litigation risk as possible,” Gerben said. “If the team were to select a name that has already been filed by another individual, any litigation over the name is not worth the risk and negative public relations fallout.”

Critics have pushed for Snyder to abandon the Redskins team name for years, arguing the nickname and logo are racist. The long-term debate sparked efforts by a number of individuals to file trademarks for names seen as potential options for the franchise if a name change ever occurred.

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Martin McCaulay, a 61-year-old actuary from Alexandria, Virginia, has filed trademark claims for 44 team names since 2014, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. Filings include the Washington Red Wolves, Redtails, Monuments and Veterans.

McCaulay sells merchandise related to several of the names because trademark holders must demonstrate a business use for their filings in order to retain rights.

“It was, I thought, a fun hobby,” he said. “And it turned out that I got really good at it.”

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Snyder’s team owned the rights to “Washington Warriors” for years but allowed the trademark to lapse. McCauley has since filed an application for the name, which is said to be a favorite of Snyder’s.

Given the complications, Gerben, the trademark attorney, said Snyder is unlikely to pursue any of the names owned by outside individuals. Any attempt to buy them would set a “bad precedent that would encourage other trademark filers to acquire key assets the team may need.

“The new name for the Washington NFL team is likely to be a name that no one is speculating on, and, that Snyder's lawyers are able to clear from a trademark perspective,” Gerben said. “It is also important that the team secure domain names and social media handles associated with the new name.  So all of that would be part of the trademark clearance and acquisition process.”

It’s unclear if the name change will take effect in time for the 2020 season. So far, Washington team officials have given no public indication as to what names are under consideration.

In its press release, the team said only that Snyder and head coach Ron Rivera “are working closely to develop a new name and design approach that will enhance the standing of our proud, tradition-rich franchise and inspire our sponsors, fans and community for the next 100 years."

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