The trademark cancellation petitions and subsequent appeals surrounding the Washington Redskins’ allegedly disparaging trademarks lay useful groundwork in determining the applicability of the equitable defense of laches in the face of a purported greater public interest. The Lanham Act gives individuals the power to petition to cancel federally registered marks that may be disparaging to a group of individuals, while also permitting trademark holders to assert the equitable defense of laches in the event of unreasonable delay and consequential prejudice. In Pro-Football, Inc. v. Harjo, the District Court for the District of Columbia and the D.C. Circuit held that the defense of laches is applicable to a claim that a trademark is disparaging, finding that applying a public interest exception is untenable. However, in what is essentially a relitigation of Pro-Football, Inc. v. Harjo, the Eastern District of Virginia disallowed the application of the defense of laches in cancellation petitions based on disparagement claims, citing a greater public interest in Pro-Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse. While circuits often split, this inconsistency is avoidable as the public interest exception to the defense of laches is contrary to the essence of trademark law and attempts to apply a sweeping rationalization to a narrow subset of the population. The Fourth Circuit’s impending decision on appeal from the Eastern District of Virginia will have extensive ramifications for the private interests of trademark holders.
Christopher A. Mull,
Public Interest over Private Prejudice? The Public Interest Exception to the Defense of Laches and the Fourth Circuit's Clean Slate,
81 Brook. L. Rev.
Available at: https://brooklynworks.brooklaw.edu/blr/vol81/iss4/13