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Urban Outfitters May Have to Pay Millions to the Navajo Nation [UPDATED]

On Wednesday, the retail company sought a limit on the nation's damages claim.
An image from Free People's February 2016 catalog. Photo: Free People

An image from Free People's February 2016 catalog. Photo: Free People

Back in 2011, Urban Outfitters faced a good deal of criticism for insensitively using the word "Navajo" in some of its product descriptions. And although the retail chain claimed to have swiftly responded by removing that inventory, Urban Outfitters Inc., also the parent company of Free People and Anthropologie, may still have to pay the Navajo Nation millions of dollars depending on the results of an ongoing lawsuit originally filed in 2012. 

The Navajo Nation is attempting to recover monetary damages from merchandise sold by Urban Outfitters Inc. as far back as 2008. But since it didn't file any actions against Urban Outfitters for violating trademark laws until February 2012, the retailer asked a judge on Wednesday to apply a doctrine of laches — basically requesting that the court bar the group's claims for damages prior to the lawsuit's filing. Since 2008, Urban Outfitters Inc. has sold up to 508,999 units of "Navajo" items, including clothing, jewelry and outerwear.

Urban Outfitters said in a court document that the Navajo Nation has "slept on their alleged rights" for at least a decade — the company has used the "Navajo" descriptor as early as 2001 — and that its attempt to recover any amount is "unjust, unfair and inequitable" and "nothing short of 'sandbagging.'"

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Update, 7/12: The Fashion Law has reported that New Mexico Federal Judge Bruce D. Black has sided with Urban Outfitters' trademark fair use defense, thus denying the Navajo Nation's motion against the retailer and claiming it "incontestable as well as inherently distinctive, and Defendants cannot prove that their use of 'Navajo' did not cause confusion." Earlier in May, the Federal Court also dismissed the Navajo Nation's trademark dilution claims.

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