Navajo Nation, Urban Outfitters return to court
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation is seeking potentially millions of dollars from Urban Outfitters Inc. over clothing, jewelry and other merchandise bearing the tribe’s name that the popular retailer has sold.
The clothing chain will ask a federal judge in Santa Fe on Wednesday 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. Efforts to settle the case featuring two unlikely foes have failed as the tribe seeks vast sums of money from the company that also owns the Anthropologie and Free People brands.
Here are things to know about the case:
What is the tribe seeking?
The Navajo Nation wants revenue from products sold by Urban Outfitters and its subsidiaries under the “Navajo” name dating back to 2008. The actual amount isn’t quantified in court documents, but it could amount to millions 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 says 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, including the 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.
Urban Outfitters says “Navajo” is a generic term for a style or design. The company wants a judge to determine it hasn’t infringed upon the tribe’s rights and to cancel the tribe’s federal trademark registrations.
What is the merchandise in question?
The geometric prints popular in clothing often are inspired by Native American designs. Urban Outfitters said it started using the “Navajo” or “Navaho” name on its products and in marketing as early as July 2001, when the fashion trend was in full swing.
Its subsidiaries followed suit, with the companies selling cuffs, necklaces, jackets, pants, a flask and panties, among other merchandise. The companies said they quit selling the products after hearing of the tribe’s lawsuit.
The Navajo Nation holds trademarks on the “Navajo” name for things like clothing, footwear and online retail sales.
Navajo policing of trademarks
The lawsuit against Urban Outfitters is the first such action 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 at least four dozen 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.