Navajo Nation wins another decision in trademark fashion dispute

This "Navajo" flask was among hundreds of "Navajo" labeled items sold by Urban Outfitters. Image from The Fashion Law

The Navajo Nation has secured another favorable ruling in a dispute over the sales of unauthorized "Navajo" products.

The tribe previously won the right to seek millions of dollars in damages from Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. The fashion retailers marketed and sold products with the "Navajo" name as far back as 2008 but the items were not produced by the tribe or its members.

Judge Bruce Black of the federal court in New Mexico has since granted an order to keep Free People in the tribe's case. The retailer is a subsidiary of the company that owns Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie.

The ruling comes after Black dismissed two of the tribe's original complaints against Urban Outfitters. In a May 13 decision, he ruled that the "Navajo" name was not "famous" enough to proceed with dilution claims under federal and state law.

But he followed up with a favorable ruling in regard to the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. On May 19, he said the truth-in-marketing law allows the tribe to seek "no less than $1,000 for each day on which the offer or display for sale or sale of a given type of good continues."

A March 31 ruling gives a hint of the damages that the tribe might pursue. In 2008, Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie sold 30,733 "Navajo" units, according to the court.

That number jumped to 78,231 in 2009 but went down to 49,182 in 2010, the ruling stated. However, the retailers appeared to be trying to capitalize on the "Navajo" name by nearly doubling the number of "Navajo" labeled product lines that were offered in those two years, from 42 in 2009 to 81 in 2010.

That strategy bears out with the 2011 figures -- the companies sold 149,750 units of 242 "Navajo" labeled items, according to the ruling. Around that time, Native activists and consumers, along with fashion blogs, started questioning the presence of so many "Navajo" items for sale by Urban Outfitters.

By that time, the tribe had already been communicating with Urban Outfitters. But a cease and desist letter apparently went ignored for several months before the company started removing the "Navajo" label from its product lines.

The tribe followed up with a formal lawsuit in
February 2012. More than four years later, Judge Black has repeatedly chastised the Urban Outfitters family for being slow with responses and for not providing enough information for the court or the tribe about the sale of the "Navajo" items.

Get the Story:
Judge limits defense of clothing retailer in tribe's lawsuit (AP 6/2)
2 counts tossed in Navajos v. Urban Outfitters (AP 5/19)

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Gabe Galanda: Companies still abusing Indian Arts and Crafts Act (05/12)
Navajo Nation can seek damages for sales of unauthorized goods (04/04)
Navajo Nation seeking millions of dollars for unauthorized products (02/02)
Law Article: Navajo Nation wages battle over 'Navajo' products (05/22)
Navajo Nation case against Urban Outfitters goes to higher court (3/12)
Navajo Nation fails to reach settlement with Urban Outfitters (08/05)
Navajo Nation looking to resolve case over 'Navajo' products (05/31)
Navajo Nation battles in court over sale of 'Navajo' products (04/02)
Judge won't dismiss Navajo Nation case over 'Navajo' items (3/28)
Judge won't move Navajo Nation case over 'Navajo' products (01/25)
NPR: Navajo Nation sues Urban Outfitters over trademarks (04/06)
Law Article: Navajo Nation fights for its intellectual property (04/02)
Cetan Wanbli Williams: Navajos going after Urban Outfitters (03/30)
Notebook: Navajo Nation files suit to protect its trademarks (03/15)
Chelsea Vowel: Navajo Nation seeks to enforce its trademarks (03/06)
Navajo Nation sues Urban Outfitters over 'Navajo' products (02/29)
Blog: Urban Outfitters faces big problems after 'Navajo' flap (01/13)
Blog: 'Native' trend in fashion ticks off real Native Americans (12/07)
Native Sun News: Navajo Nation stands up for its trademarks (11/17)
Blog: Forever 21 also offering string of 'Navajo' products (11/04)
Blog: Forever 21 sells necklace with 'Native American' girl (11/01)
Fronteras: Who should benefit from Native inspired items (10/26)
Editorial: Navajo goods should be made by Navajo artists (10/24)
Colorlines: Corporations pimping other cultures for profits (10/21)
Navajo Nation hails action by Urban Outfitters on products (10/20)
ICT: Urban Outfitters erases 'Navajo' name from products (10/19)
Sasha Houston Brown: Corporations rip off tribal property (10/18)
Navajo Nation sent trademark letter to Urban Outfitters in June (10/17)
Opinion: Urban Outfitters is obsessed with 'Navajo' fashions (10/11)
Living: Asking Navajos about the neo-Navajo trend in fashion (9/26)