Can a registered trademark be cancelled or revoked?

Yes, a trademark registration can be cancelled or revoked for various reasons. The most common reason is non-use.  In the UK, a registered trademark is vulnerable to revocation if it has not been used for a consecutive period of 5 years. However, there are numerous other reasons such as descriptiveness (by virtue of incorrect usage) or the fact that the trademark is contrary to the principles of morality.

In the USA, the validity of a trademark registration for ‘Washington Redskins’ is could be challenged on the basis that the word ‘Redskins’ is a derogatory term.

Only five NFL teams have won the Super Bowl more times than the Washington Redskins. They are one of the world’s most famous sporting brand names and one of the biggest franchises in the NFL. The ‘‘Washington Redskins’ trademark is therefore a well-known and high profile brand name. However, they are starting to sweat over their protection of the word ‘Redskins’.

A group of Native Americans are objecting to the word, because in their eyes it’s a demeaning and derogatory slur on their heritage. But here’s the thing: after a long campaign, people are starting to sit up and take notice. Recently, the US Patent and Trademark Office denied a company a trademark for ‘Redskins Hog Rinds’ on these very grounds.

Plenty of people don’t object to the brand though. In 2013, a USA Today poll found widespread support for the Redskins name – some 79% believed it should stay. In fact, many believe that the Redskins name is far from racist – that it’s actually intended to honour the bravery and dignity of American Indians.

It’s an issue that has reared its head before too. In 1992, a group of American Indians filed to have the trademark registration cancelled under statutes which prevent the use of disparaging terms. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board cancelled the trademark in 1999, but the decision was appealed and, in 2005, it was decided that there’s no evidence of it being a disparaging term. All a bit of a mess, really.

Regardless of different opinions on this issue, that decision in itself should set alarm bells ringing in Washington. It clearly implies that the decision will have ramifications for the NFL giants. And if it doesn’t, what does that mean for the pork rind company (not to mention all the different businesses facing similar issues)?

One hopes that the issue won’t be affected by money. The Washington Redskins spend millions of dollars promoting their brand the knock-on effect of having their Redskins trademark revoked would be significant.

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