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Redskins Fight Started with UI Law Grad

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (CBS2/FOX28) With the Washington Redskins potentially losing their Federal Trademark Registration from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, its the first step in what could be a series of rulings that could make it much harder for the team to protect its brand.

The battle has been going on in different forms for decades, but the last time an action like this one was taken, it was a University of Iowa Law Graduate who led the charge.

Back in 1992, Suzan Harjo first convinced the U.S. Patent Office to cancel the trademark on the Redskins name and logo. Her representation was Stephen Baird, Class of 1990 from the Iowa Law School. Hes the one who came up with the strategy of canceling the Federal Trademark.

"He worked with Ms. Harjo to file that initial petition, was successful in getting the mark cancelled, or the patent office agreeing to cancel the mark, said University of Iowa Associate Professor of Law Jason Rantanen.

But on appeal, the courts decided that Susan Harjo didnt have any legal standing to challenge the mark, because she had lived almost 50 years before taking legal action.

The decision to cancel the mark was overturned in 2003.

"Ms. Harjo was too old, said Rantanen. They needed to find an 18-24 year old who was very against this particular mark to act as the petitioner."

With new petitioners, the Patent Office against said the Redskins registrations are disparaging to Native Americans, much like it did more than 20 years ago.

This doesnt mean you can go print your own R.G. III T-shirts.

The team still has protection until its appeals are exhausted. The goal of the petitioners is to peel away that protection.

"The result of that is perhaps that might incentivize them to move to a different mark, move to a different brand, something that they can protect, said Rantanen.

Just in the Corridor, Marion High School is nicknamed the Indians. Todd Tharp at the Iowa High School Athletic Association says he doesnt expect that to change, because he says its used the right way.

"Then people embrace it that it's used in a respectful way and that there is a history behind why we're called the Marion Indians. It all ties into a whole history and culture of how the town was named, said Tharp.

Rantanen says its not common, but not unprecedented for someone to take this kind of legal action to affect social change. He says this is a big moment and that a lot of people are watching this entire situation play out, and that June 18ths decision is just one way that people opposed to the Redskins name can try to change it.
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