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Supreme Court asked to hear two cases that could sack Washington 'Redskins' name

Attorneys for the government and Redskins have asked the Supreme Court to review separate cases that could lead to revocation of the team's trademark.
The United States Supreme Court building, Nov. 6, 2015 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
The United States Supreme Court building, Nov. 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. 

The federal circuit case involves an Oregon dance band called The Slants, a name that founder Simon Shao Tam said he picked to "reclaim" the word from its history of derision of Asians.

RELATED: California becomes first state to ban 'Redskins' nickname

The Patent and Trademark Office rejected his application to trademark the name because it's "immoral, deceptive or scandalous" — only to see the appeals court side with Tam, finding that that part of the 1946 Lanham Act, which regulates trademarks, violates the First Amendment's protections of free speech.

Pro-Football Inc. said it's concerned that a quick decision in the Tam case could doom its arguments to protect the "Redskins" trademark, which it wants the court to uphold.

The dispute is deeply important to many Native American groups, who have sought for decades to revoke federal protection of the "Redskins" trademark and to force the team to change the name altogether.

But as a legal matter, it's largely symbolic — nothing in federal law prevents Pro-Football Inc. from continuing to use the name "Redskins" or Tam from using the name "The Slants."

What trademark protection does is shield the holder from loss of revenue and visibility by barring anyone else from using the same name in contexts that might be confusing.

For example, team owner Dan Snyder will still be able to use the "Redskins" name regardless whether the Supreme Court decides against him. But if a second party were to begin selling unlicensed merchandise with the trademark, he couldn't seek any remedy under federal law.

The cases are intertwined because at their hearts, they are about the same disputed section of the Lanham Act, John Crittenden, an adjunct professor at the UCLA School of Law, told NBC News last year.

"The Fourth Circuit will certainly look closely at what the Federal Circuit did inTam," Crittenden said. "The same constitutional arguments were made in both cases." 

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