Navajo Nation in trademark battle with Urban Outfitters

An American Indian tribe is suing nationally-known retailer Urban Outfitters for an alleged violation of the Navajo Nation’s registered trademarks. The lawsuit follows a legal request by the tribe to force the retailer to stop using the name “Navajo” on its products.

The trademark infringement suit is accompanied by charges that state Urban Outfitters, which has many locations in California, is in violation of the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which prohibits items to be sold that falsely imply that American Indians created them.

The Navajo Nation owns 10 trademarks that shelter the tribe’s name. Tribe officials have vowed to protect the intellectual property rights that apply to Indian household, textile and footwear products sold on and offline. Court documents claim that the use of the improper and illegal use of the word “Navajo” or a closely-related knock off like “Navaho” defame the Indian tribe.

Tribal officials were angry over products that Urban Outfitters recently associated with the Navajo name. “Navajo” brand underwear was marketed along with liquor flasks. The tribe took offense because the sale and use of alcohol is banned across the three states that include the Navajo Nation.

Urban Outfitters stopped using “Navajo” on underwear and flasks, but allegedly continued to sell other trademark-infringing products. Online jewelry described as “vintage” Navajo was marketed on an Urban Outfitters website.

Officials at Urban Outfitters stated last fall that they would not change company products. Analysts say the retailer could argue that clothing is not considered among items covered by the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

Legal observers say the retailer may regret its hard stance. Some fashion lawyers believe the Navajo Nation will succeed by impressing a jury with the pattern of “Navajo” name violations.

One compromise could be a licensing agreement. Some Navajo-named products are sold with the sanction of tribal leaders in exchange for a share of company profits. Cease-and-desist orders are the traditional method the Navajo Nation uses to deal with trademark problems. The lawsuit against Urban Outfitters will be the tribe’s first test in federal court.

Source: Associated Press, “Navajo alleges trademark infringement in Urban Outfitters’ use of tribe’s name on products,” Feb. 29, 2012