Washington Commanders' trademark application denied: What's next for the NFL franchise?

The United States Patent and Trademark Office has delivered a blow to the Washington Commanders, the professional American football team based in the Washington metropolitan area. Their application to trademark the name "Washington Commanders" has been denied, posing challenges for the franchise.


Igor Demcak

Details of the case

The application submitted by the Washington football franchise to trademark the name "Washington Commanders" was rejected by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. 

The Washington Commanders are a professional American football team based in the Washington metropolitan area. The team was founded in 1932 as the “Boston Braves.” Five years later, they moved to Washington D.C. and has remained there since. In 1933, the team's name was changed to the “Redskins” which remained the team name until 2020.

There were two main reasons for the denial. Firstly, the name was deemed likely to cause confusion with the existing trademark for the "Commanders' Classic," an annual college football game between Air Force and Army. Secondly, a local resident named Martin McCaulay had filed multiple trademark applications, attempting to anticipate the team's new name. Among his applications were "Washington Space Commanders" and "Washington Wolf Commanders," which contributed to the rejection of the NFL franchise's application.

The process of changing the team's name began in July 2020, when the decision was made to retire the long-standing "Redskins" nickname. During the transitional period, the team referred to itself as "The Washington Football Team" for two seasons (2020-2021) as a temporary placeholder. In February 2022, the team unveiled the chosen permanent name, "Commanders."


After the rejection of their trademark application, the Washington Commanders have several options moving forward. Firstly, they can choose to respond to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's decision within the given three-month period. This response would likely involve addressing the concerns raised, particularly the likelihood of confusion with the existing "Commanders' Classic" trademark and the applications filed by Martin McCaulay. The team's spokesperson expressed confidence in their registration being issued, indicating their intention to pursue this course of action.

Alternatively, the team has the option to undergo another name change, although this appears to be an extreme measure. The ruling does not mandate a name change, and it is unlikely that the franchise would want to go through the process for the third time in just three years, especially considering the expected change in ownership.

Ultimately, the Commanders have the opportunity to appeal the USPTO's decision if they believe they can successfully argue that their trademark would not cause confusion with the existing trademarks and applications mentioned. This avenue may require additional legal efforts, but if the team can present a compelling case, they could potentially overturn the initial decision and secure their desired trademark registration.

Igor Demcak
Igor Demcak

Trademark Attorney

Founder of Trama

7 year experience in IP protection

Gain more insights about the importance of brand in your industry through our selection of indicators and case studies.

Hero - other industry