Washington Football

Washington Football

Washington football fans have been forced to educate themselves on the nitty-gritty of plenty of off-field topics in recent years.

From the back-and-forth involving Kirk Cousins and his contract to the Trent Williams saga to the team's recent ownership news, supporters of the Burgundy and Gold often have to hear about and learn about matters that involve complexities and minute details.

This week will be no different, either, thanks to the franchise's choice to move away from its previous name and how its decision about its next one will involve various trademark issues.

So, to better explain what Dan Snyder and the organization could be going through as they aim to make such a dramatic shift, NBC Sports Washington enlisted the help of Scott Zebrak, a founding partner of leading Washington, D.C. copyright and trademark boutique law firm Oppenheim + Zebrak, to get his insight on the situation. 

Below, you'll find Zebrak's answers to the questions you've been wondering about as the team hones in on what they'll be known as moving forward.

Hope you're prepared to be a lot smarter by the time you get to the bottom of this story. 

How unusual is what Washington is trying to do?

On July 3, the team stated that it would be reviewing the Redskins name. Then, on July 13, it came out and said it would be retiring it as soon as it lands on its replacement.

That's quite rare, according to Zebrak.


"I can't think of another instance where a major sports team or large coporation has done that," he said. "Typically, when you look at selecting a trademark and a brand, you ideally are not doing that in rushed circumstances. You are balancing a lot of things. At the corporate level, you're picking a name that is going to be a commerically-successful brand for you. That alone you don't want to rush. Typically, for a major corporation or major sports teams, you're going to have an outside firm or a whole group of people involved in that. So doing it in 10 days is pretty unusual."


How could that tight time frame be impacting the process?

Zebrak explained that applying to register a mark can happen quickly, as can branding something. The research aspect — where Washington would search a federal database to see what's already registered and do a broader search to see what's currently being used — can also be done in a timely manner.

The real key for Snyder and Co. as they work in this small window is finding a name that they can be very sure of and make their own.

"I think the slowdown is if you see something that you would like to have less uncertainty about going forward, where you’d like to try to have greater comfort that there’s not a potential for a problem with a mark owner or domain registrants," Zebrak said. "It could be that that’s what they’re dealing with now."

Those types of problems can be resolved, though.

"It may be that they’ve found a mark or marks that they like but see some potential conflict and are trying to sort through that through some negotiations with the other domain name holders or registrants."

For those wondering why the Monday announcement about leaving the Redskins behind wasn't also coupled with the next moniker, there could very well be your holdup.

Could squatters/speculators be affecting this, too?

On Monday morning, a man by the name of Mark McCaulay called into the Sports Junkies and discussed how he owns the rights to several names, including "Redtails," "Veterans" and "War Hogs." 

But for McCaulay (or other squatters) to capably defend those from the the league — which he personally admitted he isn't necessarily desiring to do — they'd need to be truly active with them.

"Trademark rights are established based on usage," Zebrak said. "So, whether it’s registering a domain name or registering a mark, eventually you have to use it."

That makes it sound like it wouldn't be too strenuous to deal with those kinds of people, especially if Washington is willing to negotiate as Zebrak mentioned.


What are some of the basic things they've been weighing or they are weighing right now?

There are a few principle factors to consider for anyone trying to nail down a trademark.

"When you're clearing a trademark, the first thing you're doing is you're picking a name that's going to be protectable," Zebrak told NBC Sports Washington. "So, if it's too suggestive of what it's being used for, you're not going to have a broad zone of protection. Any mark owner is thinking about choosing a mark that they can protect."

Beyond that, the applicant must confirm that there won't be any mix-ups with any existing trademarks (if the team became the Red Wolves, for example, could that overlap too much with Arkansas State's Red Wolves?).

"Ultimately, these confusion questions are very fact-specific," he said. "Ultimately, it’s how closely similar are they in look as well as sound? Because it may be that you have protection for what’s called a composite mark where it’s multiple words together and not one word standing alone. It may be the 'Washington X,' not just 'X.' Those are the kind of confusion issues that you sort through."

Can they just write a massive check or overpower someone if that's what's required?

"Money obviously helps if you’re in a hurry because you can have some money for those purchases, but it takes two to tango," Zebrak said in response to this inquiry.

Yes, Washington is in the NFL, and the NFL is a very strong force. But that doesn't necessarily mean this can all be handled in a flash, as possibly evidenced by the delay between the old name and new one.

"Sometimes, no matter how fast you want to move, there’s still a negotiation that has to occur with another side," he added. "For all you know, they could be doing this for two marks at once because they aren’t sure which one will get cleared."

Lastly, once they do finally choose the next name, what happens then?

Zebrak reiterated that he suspects Washington is currently attempting to negotiate resolutions and avoid unknowns because, obviously, they'd like to avoid going through this scenario again anytime soon. 

Whenever they satisfy that, the ensuing steps could unfold rapidly.

"If they want to adopt a mark tomorrow, they can begin using it," he said. "The registration isn’t secured overnight, but you begin developing rights in the mark when you begin using it."

Look on any product you own, and odds are you'll see a small "TM" or "R" in a circle near the brand name.

Upon settling on their new name, the franchise will be in the "TM" phase. Fully registering it could take a year or even more, depending on if any opposition arises. They'll still be on solid ground, however, and finally be ready initiate their new era.

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