2000 - California DMV Cancellation of "Redskin" License Plate

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11. Official Notice' is taken of decision of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the United States Patent and Trademark Office entitled Harjo v. Pro Football, Inc. (1999) 50 U.S.P.Q.8 2d 1705.

The Harjo decision is a case of first impression.9 The decision grew out of a complaint filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in September 1992 by a group of Native American leaders against the Washington Redskins professional football organization. The complaint sought to cancel the federal registration of the trademarked term "redskins." Complainants in that case argued that the football team's registration of the team name should be canceled because the term was a disparaging, offensive and racist slur in violation of Title 15 United States Code section 1052, subd. (a). The NFL football team organization countered with an argument that the team's name was a badge of pride and honor.

The Harjo decision rests upon evidence regarding the term "redskin(s)" from not only the Native American petitioners/complainants, but also from the findings and expert opinions of civil rights activist groups, historians, social science experts, journalist association members, linguistics experts and survey statistics of the general population and Native Americans.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office made several conclusions that supported its order to cancel the registration of the NFL professional football team in Washington, D. C. to maintain its trademark protection rights to the word "Redskins" by setting forth, among other things:

This is not a case where through usage, the word "redskin(s)" has lost its meaning, in the field of professional football, as a reference to Native Americans in favor of an entirely independent meaning as the name of a professional

7 In reaching a decision in a California Administrative Procedure Act proceeding, the Administrative Law Judge and agency may take "official notice" of any fact that may be judicially noticed by a court. (Gov. Code 11513,subd.(c);) Like Judicial notice in court proceedings, the use of official notice in administrative proceedings establishes a relevant law or fact without the necessity of formal proof. Under Evidence Code 452, subd. (c) Judicial notice may be taken of "official acts of the ... executive and judicial departments of the United States...." The decisions of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Trademark Trial and Appeal Board are official acts of an executive department of the United States of America.

8 United States Patent Quarterly

9 George Likourezos, "A Case of First Impression: American Indians Seek Cancellation of the Trademarked Term' Redskins'," 78 Journal of Patents and Trademark Office Society 275.


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