Tribe could seek millions from Urban Outfitters

Felicia Fonseca
The Associated Press
Purchased items from Urban Outfitters’ Navajo line are shown in Tempe, Ariz., on Oct. 14, 2011. The Navajo Nation is suing Urban Outfitters 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 federal court in New Mexico alleges trademark infringements and violations of the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.  — A federal judge cleared the way for the Navajo Nation to seek potentially millions of dollars in its 2012 lawsuit over Urban Outfitters' use of the "Navajo" name in clothing, jewelry and other merchandise.

The tribe did not unreasonably delay a trademark infringement challenge against the clothing retailer, U.S. District Judge Bruce Black in New Mexico ruled Thursday.

Urban Outfitters Inc. had claimed the tribe knew or should have known that the name had been used in items such as necklaces, jackets and underwear for years and delayed filing a lawsuit, prejudicing the company. The retailer started using the "Navajo" descriptor in 2001, according to court documents.

There was no evidence anyone legally associated with the Navajo Nation knew the retailer used the tribe's trademarks until June 2011, Black said. The tribe sent a cease and desist letter to Urban Outfitters and followed up with the lawsuit.

"We're happy with the ruling and hope to resolve the matter expeditiously for the benefit of the Navajo people," Paul Spruhan, an attorney for the tribe, said Friday.

Pedestrians walks past Urban Outfitters in Tempe, Ariz., on Oct. 14, 2011. The Navajo Nation is seeking millions of dollars from Urban Outfitters over clothing, jewelry and other merchandise bearing the tribes name in a lawsuit alleging trademark violations.

Court documents do not quantify the amount the Navajo Nation could recover if it's successful in its lawsuit, but it could amount to millions of dollars dating to 2008.

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.

Lindsay DeMoss, one of a handful of attorneys listed for Urban Outfitters, declined to comment. The company had said in court documents that granting the tribe a monetary windfall for a situation it created with unexplained silence "would be inequitable and unjust."

Black's ruling applies to Urban Outfitters and one of its subsidiaries, Anthropologie. The judge held off on determining whether it also applies to subsidiary Free People LLC until a company representative could be interviewed.

The tribe's 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 are made by American Indians.

Urban Outfitters says "Navajo" is a generic term for a style or design.