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Prof. Borgida, et al., File Amicus Brief on Native Mascots Trademark

OCTOBER 26, 2009—Dr. Eugene Borgida, University of Minnesota professor of psychology and law, is among 13 academic colleagues from 10 universities across the country who filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 16, 2009, in support of petitioners in Harjo v. Pro Football.

At issue is the use of "Redskins" as an NFL team name. The case has been under way since 1992, when Cheyenne activist Suzan Shown Harjo and other Native American rights advocates petitioned the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel trademark registrations used by the Washington Redskins and owned by Pro Football Inc.

Originally successfully, the petitioners’ case was overturned in 2003 on the basis of laches, a defense doctrine contending that in waiting too long to file, a party loses its claim. The Redskins trademark was issued in 1967.

Although the case is a trademark issue, at its heart, according to Borgida, is whether decades of peer-reviewed social psychological research on stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination establishes that a trademark is disparaging to a group of people. If so, says Borgida, then the doctrine of laches may be less likely to prevent cancellation of a trademark involving a Native mascot.

In their brief, amici state that "The public has a compelling interest in the cancellation of disparaging trademarks—such as the Redskins mark—that embody invidious racial and ethnic slurs. Such slurs have profound and lasting negative impacts on American Indians and non-Indians alike. These negative impacts, and the corresponding public interest in the cancellation petition, are magnified by the pervasive exposure of the public to the offensive Redskins mark."

In addition to Professor Borgida, amici curiae are:

Dr. Mahzarin R. Banaji, Harvard University
Dr. Nancy Cantor, Syracuse University
Dr. John F. Dovidio, Yale University
Dr. Susan T. Fiske, Princeton University
Dr. Stephanie A. Fryberg, University of Arizona
Dr. James S. Jackson, University of Michigan
Dr. Hazel Rose Markus, Stanford University
Dr. Denise Sekaquaptewa, University of Michigan
Dr. Robert Sellers, University of Michigan
Dr. Claude M. Steele, Columbia University
Dr. Jeff Stone, University of Arizona
Dr. Michael Zárate, University of Texas at El Paso

Click to download the brief (PDF file).

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