Mongols, Redskins, and overreaching trademark cases

Washington Redskins logo
One would think if you named your organization something the federal government wouldn’t come charging in and try to take the name from you because they don’t like the name or you. Yet that is precisely what is happening with the Mongols Motorcycle Club and the Washington Redskins.

The Mongols Motorcycle Club is in court fighting to keep their name and patch. In a bizarre, overreaching attempt that most certainly would be a slippery slope down if successful, the feds took Mongols to court saying they had the right under copyright law to stop Mongols from wearing their patch or using their name.

In the Fall of 2008, in announcing a racketeering case against the Mongols titled U.S. v. Cavazos et al., then U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien had bragged to the world press that the government was using trademark law to forbid Mongols from wearing their patch. O’Brien, who had a distressingly incomplete knowledge of the law for a U.S. Attorney, claimed that “if any law enforcement officer sees a Mongol wearing his patch, he will be authorized to stop that gang member and literally take the jacket right off his back.”

Happily, it appears, after a multi-year battle, the feds attempt to seize Mongols name will fail, as their case is no doubt unconstitutional.

The Washington Redskins have lost trademark protection for their logo and name due to an administrative ruling not a court. Yes, many do find the Redskins name and logo offensive. However, shouldn’t removing trademark protection for it by done by an actual court, and for demonstrable reasons, not because some functionary somewhere thought the name icky?

The Redskins lost a major challenge this week to the cancellation of the their trademark protection by the Patent and Trademark Office. I have previously written about my disagreement with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decision to rescind federal trademark protections for the Redskins as a racially disparaging name as well as the underlying law used to strip the team of its trademark protection. The law allows for a small administrative office to effectively dictate the outcome of a long simmering societal debate over the team name.

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