washington-redskins--logoOn November 16th, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to give new life to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Native Americans who claimed that the team name of the Washington Redskins NFL franchise is so offensive that it doesn’t deserve trademark protection. Without comment, the justices declined to involve themselves in the case (Harjo v. Pro-Football Inc.). The court’s decision lets stand a lower court ruling that said activists had waited too long to bring the legal challenge. The team has been called the Redskins since 1933, when its name was changed from the Boston Braves. The franchise became the Washington Redskins when the team moved in 1937. In 1992, seven activists filed suit challenging a Redskins trademark that was issued in 1967. In a 1974 ruling by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, the activists won, with the Board citing that the name “Redskins” could be interpreted as being offensive to Native Americans. Trademark law prohibits registering a name that “may disparage . . . persons. . . or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” The franchise appealed in federal court. Lower court judges (at the district and circuit levels) ruled that the activists’ trademark suit was barred by the doctrine of “laches,” which bars claims that should have been filed long ago. The activists cited a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which said that disparaging trademarks can be challenged at any time; that decision had been written by Judge Samuel Alito Jr., who now sits on the U.S. Supreme Court. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. said the Alito opinion was only a “suggestion” for how to interpret the law, and the federal district judge who heard the lawsuit said the activists hadn’t proven that the name “Redskins” was disparaging. The Supreme Court justices didn’t consider whether the team name was disparaging, only whether the suit was barred because too much time had passed.