In the latest blow to the N.F.L.'s defense of the Redskins as a team name, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, part of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, canceled the trademark registration of the name Redskins for use in connection with a professional football team, saying that “a substantial composite of Native Americans found the term Redskins to be disparaging.”
The decision was hailed by some Native American groups and members of Congress who have pressured Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the N.F.L., to force Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Redskins, to abandon the name.
The board does not have the authority to ban the use of the term, and the registration of the trademark is likely to be held intact while the team appeals, so there will be little immediate impact on sales of team merchandise.
In a statement, Bob Raskopf, a trademark lawyer for the team, said: “We’ve seen this story before. And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo.
“We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s divided ruling will be overturned on appeal.”
But if the decision is upheld on appeal, a process that could take years, others will be free to use the name and the team logo on clothing and other gear, which could lead to more Redskins merchandise on the market, not less.
The Redskins could still try to defend their common law rights to stop third parties from using it.
The decision Wednesday reignited a longstanding and bitter debate about the use of the name, which some Native American groups have said is derogatory. Snyder has said the name is a sign of respect, and he has pointed to several surveys that show a majority of Native Americans support the name. Goodell, who grew up a Redskins fan, has defended Snyder.
In a 2-to-1 decision, the board said that “the recognition that this racial designation based on skin color is disparaging to Native Americans” is demonstrated “by the near complete drop-off in usage of “redskins” as a reference to Native Americans beginning in the 1960s.”
The decision came in a heavily footnoted 81-page opinion, accompanied by an 18-page dissent. It was similar to one issued in 1999 that was overturned four years later on appeal, largely because the courts decided that the plaintiffs were too old.
The case was refiled in 2006 with a younger set of plaintiffs.
Appeals from the decision of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board can be made to a United States District Court or the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Amanda Blackhorse, one of five petitioners, said in a statement: “It is a great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans. We filed our petition eight years ago and it has been a tough battle ever since. I hope this ruling brings us a step closer to that inevitable day when the name of the Washington football team will be changed.”
Senate Democrats who have urged the N.F.L. to pressure the Redskins into changing the name celebrated the decision and said it was only a matter of time before Snyder would have to relent.
“The writing is on the wall, on the wall in giant, blinking neon lights,” said Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader who has called the name a slur.
Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington and former chair of the Committee on Indian Affairs, acknowledged the decision was not the final word, but she said she hoped it would spur a re-evaluation by the team.
“I hope that all the business decisions at the team will be made with the understanding that this is no longer a business case and we will get off of this slur of a name that we need to change,” said Cantwell, who rounded up 50 Democratic senators — half of the Senate — to get behind a letter to the N.F.L. calling for a name change.
Follow us on Twitter: