Redskins: Canceling trademark violates free-speech rights

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Redskins: Canceling trademark violates free-speech rights
FILE - This Aug. 7, 2014 file photo shows groundskeepers preparing the end zone for the NFL football preseason game between the Washington Redskins and the New England Patriots in Landover, Md. The debate over the Washington Redskins nickname has been around for decades, usually as a flash-in-the-pan topic that pops up occasionally and disappears after a day or so. This time is different. The campaign against the term many consider to be a racial slur has reached sustained, unprecedented momentum over the last 18 months and shows no signs of abating. A confluence of events _ and several missteps by team owner Dan Snyder _ has made the issue a topic du jour. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 07: Defensive end Jarvis Jenkins #99 of the Washington Redskins waits to be introduced before playing the New England Patriots during a preseason NFL game at FedExField on August 7, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 07: Kicker Zach Hocker #4 of the Washington Redskins kicks a field goal against the New England Patriots during a preseason NFL game at FedExField on August 7, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. The Washington Redskins won, 23-6. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 07: Defensive end Chris Baker #92 of the Washington Redskins looks into the stands after playing the New England Patriots during a preseason NFL game at FedExField on August 7, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. The Washington Redskins won, 23-6. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 07: Quarterback Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins looks on against the New England Patriots during a preseason NFL game at FedExField on August 7, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. The Washington Redskins won, 23-6. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 07: Larry Mooney poses for a portrait displaying his eyes in the back of his head tattoo during a preseason NFL game at FedExField on August 7, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. The Washington Redskins won, 23-6. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - August 7: Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden talks with his quarterbacks, Robert Griffin III (10) and Kirk Cousins (8) during a first half timeout against the New England Patriots on August 7, 2014 in Landover, MD. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 11: The Patriots surround teammate Jerod Mayo (#51) on the ground with the ball after he intercepted a pass in the final minute of the game. Washington WR Jabar Gaffney is at right. The New England Patriots visited the Washington Redskins in an NFL regular season game at FedEx Field. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 11: Fans cheer as the Patriots from left to right, Matthew Slater, Kevin Faulk, and Deion Branch head onto the field for pre game warmups. The New England Patriots visited the Washington Redskins in an NFL regular season game at FedEx Field. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III reaches for fans' hands as he leaves the field after an NFL football preseason game against the New England Patriots in Landover, Md., Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. The Redskins defeated the Patriots 23-6. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, right, jokes with strong safety Brandon Meriweather after an NFL football preseason game against the New England Patriots in Landover, Md., Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. The Redskins defeated the Patriots 23-6. (AP Photo/Richard Lipski)
New England Patriots wide receiver Brian Tyms loses control of the ball in the end zone on a hit from Washington Redskins defensive back Chase Minnifield during the second half of an NFL football preseason game in Landover, Md., Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Washington Redskins wide receiver Aldrick Robinson breaks free from New England Patriots strong safety Duron Harmon (30) and scores a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football preseason game in Landover, Md., Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
LANDOVER MD - DECEMBER 8: Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith (11) is taken down by Washington inside linebacker London Fletcher (59) in the red zone on a 4th quarter Chief's touchdown drive as the Kanas City Chiefs defeat the Washington Redskins 45 - 10 at FedEx Field in Landover MD, December 8, 2013. ( Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden smiles as he watches during the second half of the Redskins' NFL football preseason game against the New England Patriots in Landover, Md., Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Lipski)
Washington Redskins NFL football team's Santana Moss (89) signs autographs with Kaya Todd, 9, right, and Devin Wright, 7, after a joint practice with he New England Patriots in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Jay Paul)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady warms up before an NFL football preseason game against the New England Patriots in Landover, Md., Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 11: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski as he high fives some fans after the New England victory. Gronkowski set a new NFL record for touchdown passes in a season by a tight end in the game. The New England Patriots visited the Washington Redskins in an NFL regular season game at FedEx Field. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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McLEAN, Va. (AP) - A federal government decision to cancel the Washington Redskins' trademark because it may be disparaging infringes on free-speech rights and unfairly singles the team out, lawyers argued in court papers filed Monday.

The team wants to overturn a decision last year by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to cancel the Redskins' trademark on the grounds that it may be offensive to Native Americans. But the team's attorneys say the law barring registration of disparaging trademarks is unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

The trademark board's decision unfairly singles out the Redskins "for disfavored treatment based solely on the content of its protected speech, interfering with the ongoing public discourse over the Redskins' name by choosing sides and cutting off the debate. This the U.S. Constitution does not tolerate," the lawyers write in their brief.

The lawyers argue that the government has no business deciding that a name such as Redskins is disparaging and undeserving of trademark protection while deeming other names such as Braves to be content-neutral and allowable for trademarks.

The team still disputes that Redskins is a disparaging term and has asked the judge to rule in the team's favor based on that argument. But the court papers filed Monday focus on the constitutionality of the law that bans registration of disparaging trademarks.

The government has intervened in the civil lawsuit to defend the law's constitutionality. In similar cases, government lawyers have argued that the law doesn't ban disparaging speech; it just denies the protection of a federal trademark to those words. For instance, the Redskins would not be prohibited from calling themselves the Redskins just because they lose the trademark case - they would just lose some of the legal protections that go along with a registered trademark.

The team says free-speech protections should be understood more broadly. The team says the First Amendment can be violated by government restrictions that burden speech even if they don't ban it outright. The team argues that canceling a trademark represents such a burden, especially for a football club that has used the name since 1933.

A lawyer for the group of Native Americans that sought cancellation of the trademark did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

The team also argues that canceling the trademark after decades of lawful registration amounts due a denial of due process because of the difficulty in trying to defend itself so many years after the fact.

A hearing on the issue is scheduled for May 5.

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