Native Americans Accusing Urban Outfitters of Trademark Infringement

By Joseph Mandour on October 18, 2011

Fashion TrademarkLos Angeles – Fashion retailer Urban Outfitter’s line of Navajo Indian branded clothing and accessories has enraged people from the Navajo Nation government, who is alleging trademark infringement. The Navajo Nation is particularly upset with the retailer’s underwear products and a liquor flask that many tribe members consider disrespectful to their native American culture.

For years, runway models have been showcasing Navajo-inspired prints from top clothing designers. The Navajo Nation is taking issue with the clothing chain over its unauthorized use of the Navajo name on its products and marketing campaign. To date, the tribe has registered at least ten trademarks for “Navajo” that cover clothing, footwear, household products, textiles, and online retail sales.

As a result of the alleged infringement, the tribe’s Department of Justice fired off a cease and desist letter to Urban Outfitters in June, demanding that the clothier discontinue use of the Navajo name on its products. Although Navajo Nation has not received a response from the clothing chain, it remains “cautiously optimistic” that it will be able to convince Urban Outfitters to adopt another brand name and trademark.

“When products that have absolutely no connection to the Navajo Nation, its entities, its people, and their products are marketed and retailed under the guise that they are Navajo in origin, the Navajo Nation does not regard this as benign or trivial,” stated tribe attorney, Brian Lewis. He went on to say, “It takes appropriate action to maintain distinctiveness and clarity of valid name association in the market and society.”

Urban Outfitters, which has retail locations across the United States and overseas, claims that it has never been contacted by the Navajo Nation regarding the trademark. The retailer also defended its use of the name and said that it has no plans of altering or removing the Navajo name from its products or marketing. In a statement from company spokesman Ed Looram, he said:

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

Although the Navajo Nation has not initiated any legal action, one could argue that it has a strong case of trademark infringement. Essentially, the tribe could make the argument that consumers would be confused and believe Urban Outfitters has some association with the native Americans. The Navajos are a proud people, protective of their culture and reputation, and would like companies to be tasteful and respectful when using the Navajo print.

The issue with Urban Outfitters does not mean that the Navajo Nation is not open to working with companies. In 2007, Fermin Navar and his business partner Phil Brader, signed a 75-year licensing agreement with the tribe that allows them to sell skin care products and clothing with the Navajo name in exchange for profit share.

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