Abbe Lowell: ‘Bigger Money Play Is Changing Name’

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LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 03: Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder looks on before a game between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 3, 2012 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Dan Snyder (Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

The United States Patent and Trademark Office stripped the Washington Redskins of six trademark registrations Wednesday, saying that the team’s nickname is disparaging to Native Americans.

While this decision prompted front-page headlines across the country, it really wasn’t all that surprising.

“The answer, really, is no – and here’s why,” defense attorney Abbe Lowell said on The John Feinstein Show. “(This) federal agency has had the opportunity over the years to reject many people seeking to get a trademark (that uses) Redskins in the name, and it’s made it very clear that they’re not (okay with that). People ought not be surprised by the action of the USPTO. The timing is interesting, perhaps – the fact that now people are saying it’s going to make a big difference to (Dan Sndyer). That’s maybe interesting. But I would have predicted this.”

That’s because it already happened 15 years ago.

“They had already said this was a disparaging name, but the Redskins appealed and got it overturned in a federal court,” Lowell said. “So it shouldn’t be surprising that the USPTO would do this. What might be surprising is what little impact it actually has. It doesn’t really do anything.”

And what it does do, it might not do for awhile. The Redskins’ last appeal took four years.

Yet, while this ruling may have little to no legal impact, it has a great deal of practical impact.

“So here’s what I think,” Lowell said. “I think that if you think of this as sort of a process in which those who want to have the name changed are taking an enormous number of actions – letters signed by senators, editorials, pressure on sponsors, challenges in the courts – these are all parts of the offenses. In the totality, they can have an effect.

“Think of Dan Snyder as a tree that’s standing, and each of these is sort of a chop to the trunk or a saw cut. Enough of them will happen and the tree will fall. This is a significant erosion of the base of that tree, so I do think it’s important from a practical point of view.”

“Oddly enough, it has very (little) legal bite, but it has practical bite – because we’re talking about it. I do think it’s a matter of time.”

The weird thing is, Snyder should want to change the name – not just to demonstrate a modicum of social awareness, but because it’s a way to make money. Think of all the money Snyder has made off of Redskins merchandising over the years. Okay, now double that.

That’s a lot of money.

“Here’s what’s odd to me,” Lowell said. “Yeah, I’ve met Mr. Snyder. I don’t know him very well or all the people that are advising him, but this is sort of an inevitably, and he could take control of it. He could do two things: One, he could do the right thing, in my opinion. Second of all, he could make a ton of money. That’s what’s surprising. The bigger money play here is to actually go ahead and change the name – not to keep it.”


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