The Navajo Nation has recently started a lawsuit against the popular clothing seller Urban Outfitters. The case alleges trademark infringement, as well as violations of the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act. The federal Indian Arts and Crafts act is rarely seen in court, but makes it illegal for companies or individuals to sell arts and crafts in a way that would falsely suggest the products were made by Native Americans. The lawsuit seeks financial damages and an injunction to prevent Urban Outfitters from using the Navajo name or other variations on its products.
A representative for the Navajo Nation emphatically states that the Native American tribe has no connection with Urban Outfitters, and considers the infringement violations "derogatory and scandalous." Urban Outfitters stirred up controversy when it introduced its Native American inspired line of products, which included Navajo underwear and liquor flasks. In light of the fact that the sale and consumption of alcohol is banned on the Navajo Reservation, the production and sale of the liquor flasks was particularly offensive. At first, the Navajo Nation sent a cease and desist letter, which obliged the Urban Outfitters to remove the offending product names from its website. However, the Navajo Nation claims that the products are still being distributed through other brands owned by Urban Outfitters, as well as catalogs and retail outlets. Urban Outfitters has stated that it has no plans to further alter its products and claims that its designs are inspired by current trends used industry wide. The company and other retailers have since replaced the Navajo name with the word "printed" or alternate spellings of Navajo. The Navajo Nation also disputes such items as traditionally styled beaded earrings and hacienda bags. Such products do not carry the Navajo trademarked names, but nonetheless remain demonstrative of patterns that have long been used in traditional Native American artwork and designs.
The Navajo Nation considers it's branding and trademarks some of its most valuable assets and vows to protect them to the fullest extent of the law. There are approximately 10 trademarks currently registered by the Navajo Nation including those for clothing, footwear, online retail sales, household products and textiles. Recently, the tribe forced a French company to stop using the name, "Navaho" because it was confusingly similar to the correct spelling of its tribal name.
Source: Mandour & Associates, APC
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