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Urban Outfitters Sued Over 'Navajo' Panties

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on March 01, 2012 5:04 AM

Just months after it demanded the retailer stop selling merchandise branded with its tribal name, the Navajo Nation has sued Urban Outfitters. The chain is being accused of trademark infringement and violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which makes it illegal to falsely suggest a product is made by an American Indian.

The tribe's goal, though partly about money, is to protect its reputation, according to the suit. It finds the retailer's 'Navajo' panties, jewelry and flasks to be "derogatory and scandalous."

It's a bit surprising that the dispute has come down to this. In October, Navajo attorneys sent Urban Outfitters a cease and desist letter, demanding that it stop using the tribe's name. Soon after, the Associated Press reports the company removed the products from its website.

But it seems it actually just shifted the products elsewhere. 'Navajo' panties are still being sold under the company's other brands -- in catalogs and stores.

Though the chain can claim no one will think its products are actually produced by the Navajo, the tribe does have very strong legal arguments. It owns at least 10 trademarks, covering clothing, footwear and other products. It's also successfully stopped retailers from using its name in the past.

Simply put, it's not wise to mess with the intellectual property rights of an American Indian tribe. They receive protection under trademark law and the Arts and Crafts Act. If the 'Navajo' panties don't violate one of these laws, it'll likely violate the other.

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