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Navajo Nation Settles Trademark Dispute Against Urban Outfitters

The tribe sued the Philadelphia-based retailer in 2012 for selling both Navajo- and Navaho-branded clothing and accessories, including underwear, socks and feathered earrings, alleging that the items infringed on its trademark rights.

The multi-million-dollar lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New Mexico, also accused Urban Outfitters of violating the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, which makes it illegal to sell arts or crafts in a way that misleadingly implies they were produced by Native Americans.

However, Urban Outfitter’s defense centered on the fact that “Navajo” is a common word that doesn’t hint at Native American origins.

“Just as the term ‘Light Beer’ is generic for a type of beer that is light in body or taste or low in alcoholic and caloric content, ‘Navajo’ is today a generic descriptor for a particular category of design and style,” the retailer said in a court filing four years ago.

Urban Outfitters has since changed its tune. Reuters reported Friday that both parties had reached an agreement, citing court records that showed a federal judge had formally dismissed the case last Monday. While terms of the settlement were not revealed, Navajo leaders released a statement that said the two sides had also signed a “supply and license agreement” and would work together on authentic Native American jewelry in the future.

“We believe in protecting our nation, our artisans, designs, prayers and way of life,” the tribe’s president, Russell Begaye, said. “We expect that any company considering the use of the Navajo name, or our designs or motifs, will ask us for our permission.”

Azeez Hayne, Urban Outfitter’s general counsel, stated: “[Urban Outfitters] has long been inspired by the style of Navajo and other American Indian artists and looks forward to the opportunity to work with them on future collaborations.”