Trademarks and Native American intellectual property

In order to protect their intellectual property, Native American tribes can provide information to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) free of charge. The USPTO refers to the information when examining trademark applications to determine whether the applicant is falsely suggesting an affiliation with a tribe.

Here is the text of a recent announcement from the USPTO that explains the process:

“The USPTO’s Native American tribal insignia database is a part of the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). This database records the official tribal insignias of federally or state-recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes (Native American tribes).

Why participate?

The USPTO considers the tribal insignias in its database when examining trademarks in pending applications. Tribes who choose to participate allow the USPTO to evaluate whether a trademark may suggest a false connection to their tribal insignia and refuse registration. This gives tribes the benefit of helping to protect their intellectual property and cultural heritage.

There are no fees or forms. For more information about participating in the database, see the refreshed Native American tribal insignia database page on the USPTO website.

Questions?

EmailĀ Tribal.Insignia@uspto.gov, or call the Office of Liaisons and Petitions at 571-272-8950.”

In addition, the USPTO states:

“Your tribal insignia must be adopted by tribal resolution and consist of a flag, coat of arms, other emblem, or device. Your tribe must be recognized federally or by your state. A word or words alone are not considered a tribal insignia, and are not entered in the database.”

If someone believes that a trademark applicant is misappropriating or mis-using tribal intellectual property in a way that would cause confusion or that suggests a false connection, there are steps for the tribe to take, depending on the stage of the trademark application, e.g. a letter of protest, a notice of opposition, and a petition to cancel. The link above provides details about taking those steps.