The Navajo Nation is seeking millions of dollars from Urban Outfitters Inc. over clothing, jewelry and other merchandise bearing the tribe’s name. The clothing chain is fighting back by asking a federal judge in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to limit how far back in time the tribe can go to seek money over the company’s products, which included everything from necklaces, jackets and pants to a flask and underwear with the “Navajo” name. The tribe’s lawsuit alleging trademark violations has been working its way through the courts for more than three years, with efforts to settle the case having failed, as the tribe seeks vast sums of money from the company that also owns the Anthropologie and Free People brands. Here are a few points of interest to know about the case:
WHAT IS THE TRIBE SEEKING? In addition to injunctive relief, which will prohibit Urban Outfitters and its subsidiaries from manufacturing, selling, and marketing goods with the “Navajo” name on them, the Navajo Nation wants damages in connection with its trademark infringement claims stemming from products sold by Urban Outfitters and its subsidiaries dating back to 2008. The actual amount isn’t quantified in court documents, but sources suggest that it amounts to upwards of one million of dollars.
On some claims, the tribe wants all the profits generated from the Navajo-themed sales. On others, it wants $1,000 per day per item, or three times the profit generated by marketing and retail of products using the name. Urban Outfitters is fighting to keep the sum at a minimum, arguing that the tribe deserves nothing from 2008 to when the lawsuit was filed, saying the statute of limitations expired and tribal officials “slept on their alleged rights.”
WHAT IS THE BASIS OF THE LAWSUIT? The tribe’s 2012 lawsuit alleges violations of federal and state trademark laws, as well as the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, a federal law that makes it illegal to sell arts or crafts in a way to falsely suggest they are made by American Indians.
Urban Outfitters has fought such claims arguing that “Navajo” is a generic term for a style or design, thereby, making its use of the term legally permissible. The company wants a judge to determine and officially declare that it has not infringed upon the tribe’s rights and to cancel the tribe’s numerous federal trademark registrations that cover the word “Navajo.”
NAVAJO POLICING OF TRADEMARKS — The lawsuit against Urban Outfitters is one of the first such actions taken by the tribe in federal court to assert its trademarks. Former Navajo Nation Attorney General Harrison Tsosie has said the tribe twice protested the unauthorized use of “Navajo” before it sued and sent nearly fifty protest letters afterward. The tribe relies on its members and an agreement with a Texas-based company that licenses the “Navajo” name to monitor use of the term and alert the tribal government to possible trademark infringement.
WHAT IS THE NAVAJO NATION? The Navajo Nation refers both to the tribal government and to the 27,000 square miles that make up the tribe’s reservation in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico — the country’s largest. About 180,000 of the 300,000 Navajo tribal members live on the reservation. The tribe’s population is second only to the Cherokee Nation.