March 01, 2012

Navajo Nation sues Urban Outfitters

Last October, Urban Outfitters was in the news because of its "Navajo" products. The story isn't over yet:

Navajo sues Urban Outfitters over product names

By Felicia FonsecaThe Navajo Nation has sued Urban Outfitters Inc. months after the tribe sent a cease and desist letter to the clothing retailer demanding it pull the "Navajo" name from its products.

The lawsuit filed late Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New Mexico alleges trademark violations and violations of the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which makes it illegal to sell arts or crafts in a way to falsely suggest they're made by American Indians when they're not.

The tribe has about 10 registered trademarks on the Navajo name that cover clothing, footwear, online retail sales, household products and textiles. Tribal justice officials said they're intent on protecting what they believe are among the tribe's most valuable assets.

"The fame or reputation of the Navajo name and marks is such that, when defendant uses the `Navajo' and `Navaho' marks with its goods and services, a connection with the Navajo Nation is falsely presumed," the lawsuit states.
Some legal background:Susan Scafidi, who directs the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University's law school in New York, said Urban Outfitters could point out the name changes in certain items in response to the tribe's original objections. The "Navajo Hipster Panty" and the "Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask," for example, later appeared on the company's website as "printed" instead of "Navajo."

Other defenses include claiming no likelihood of consumer confusion between an authorized Navajo clothing item and the panty, using alternate spellings of "Navajo" and arguing that the contested product isn't a handicraft, she said.

But she and New York-based fashion lawyer Joseph F. Murphy Jr., agree the trademark infringement is clear. Both pointed to a history in which the Navajo Nation lost real property and now is fighting to protect intellectual property.

"That's what disgusts me about this situation," Murphy said. "I, like many people, thought it would have been resolved. But apparently Urban Outfitters declined to write the big apology and may have to write the big check."
Icewine, Roquefort cheese and the Navajo Nation

By Chelsea VowelThe Navajo Nation has trademark ownership of the name ‘Navajo’, and it has the legal right to stop people from using it to describe products that have not been approved by the Navajo Nation. Just like Urban Outfitters owns the trademark to its name.

Urban Outfitters responded with this back in October:

“Like many other fashion brands, we interpret trends and will continue to do so for years to come,” he said. “The Native American-inspired trend and specifically the term ‘Navajo’ have been cycling thru fashion, fine art and design for the last few years.”

This is true, but won’t save Urban Outfitters from being held accountable for their trademark infringement. “Everyone else does it” is not a legal defence.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Urban Outfitters Renames "Navajo" Products and Jezebel Surveys "Navajo" Fashions.


Anonymous said...

Watch Urban Outfitters copyright the name Navajo. Just watch them.

(RumbleFish has copyrighted natural birdsong, as hard as it is to believe.)

Anonymous said...

"The tribe has about 10 registered trademarks on the Navajo name that cover clothing, footwear, online retail sales, household products and textiles. "

Just so you know.