In 1994, seven Native Americans won an order that voided six "Redskins" trademarks. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (a unit within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) ruled that the marks held up "a substantial segment of the population" to "public ridicule".
Pro Football, Inc., the owner of the marks, sued to cancel the cancellation. It argued that the plaintiffs' delay in asking the TTAB to delist the marks — from 1967 to 1992 — gave it a laches defense. The district court agreed, but in a first appeal the D.C. Circuit cut the delay period to the eight years after the youngest plaintiff, Mateo Romero, turned 18. On remand, the district court again sustained the laches defense. Romero appealed.
The D.C. Circuit affirmed. It held that Pro Football had shown enough harm during the eight years. The damage came from loss of evidence (due to the death of former Redskins president Edward Bennett Williams in 1988) and from the money Pro Football spent to promote the "Redskins" marks. Pro Football, Inc. v. Harjo, No. 03-7162 (D.C. Cir. May 15, 2009).
The "trial" prejudice mattered because the question of "disparagement" turned on public views at the time the owner registered the marks, here in 1967. "The lost evidence of contemporary public opinion is surely not entirely irrelevant, and weighing the prejudice resulting from its loss falls well within the zone of its discretion." Pro Football, slip op. at 6.
The "economic" harm stemmed from Pro Football's lack of notice that plaintiffs wanted to challenge the marks:
[A] finding of prejudice requires at least some reliance on the absence of a lawsuit — if Pro-Football would have done exactly the same thing regardless of a more timely complaint, its laches defense devolves into claiming harm not from Romero's tardiness, but from Romero's success on the merits. But in contrast to the defense of estoppel — which requires evidence of specific reliance on a particular plaintiff's silence — laches requires only general evidence of prejudice, which may arise from mere proof of continued investment in the late-attacked mark alone.
Pro Football, slip op. at 7.
Blawgletter notes that the process took about 17 years. The case also has its own Wikipedia page.