The United States Patent and Trademark (“USPTO”) does more than issue patents and trademark registrations. One of their lesser-known databases is the Native American Tribal Insignia Database. This database is a collection of official tribal insignia submitted by federally or state recognized Native American tribes. Tribes are not required to submit their insignia to the database, nor do they receive additional protection by their inclusion in the database. Rather, the database is used by trademark examining attorneys when they are considering whether to allow the registration of similar trademarks.
United States trademark law prohibits the registration of any trademark that “[c]onsists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute; or a geographical indication which, when used on or in connection with wines or spirits, identifies a place other than the origin of the goods and is first used on or in connection with wines or spirits by the applicant on or after [a particular date].” 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a). A purported trademark that is too close to a tribe’s official tribal insignia may falsely suggest a connection with that tribe, and thus may not be registered. Trademark examining attorneys will compare such marks to the insignia in the Native American Tribal Insignia Database to determine whether this provision is violated.
Native American tribes benefit from submitting their official tribal insignia to the database because this allows the trademark examining attorneys to consider their insignia, rather than possibly allowing a mark that falsely suggest a connection with the tribe due to the examining attorney not knowing about the official tribal insignia, which is likely to occur if the insignia is not included in the database. According to the Frequently Asked Questions About the Database of Native American Tribal Insignia on the USPTO website, submitting an official insignia to the database may be accomplished by submitting a written request, a depiction of the insignia, a copy of the tribal resolution adopting the insignia as official, and a signed statement verifying that the insignia submitted is the official insignia, as well as additional information from the state if the tribe is state rather than federally recognized.
If a tribe wishes to receive trademark protection for their official tribal insignia, they may do so through the normal trademark registration process.
The Native American Tribal Insignia Database may be searched by the public through the Trademark Electronic Search System (“TESS”). To access, visit the TESS website, click the link for “Word and/or Design Mark Search (Free Form),” and enter the following, including quotation marks, into the search term box: “Native American Tribal Insignia”[od]. There are currently 30 official tribal insignia included in the database, along with the insignia of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.