Written by Alesha M. Dominique and Lindsay R. Edelstein
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) tribal insignia trademark program allows Native American tribes to include tribal insignias in the USPTO’s database at no charge. The USPTO’s waiver of application fees is intended to foster adequate protections for Native American tribes’ intellectual property and cultural heritage.
The tribal insignia database has been a component of the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS), a larger database maintained by the USPTO, for over 20 years. When the USPTO examines trademark applications to determine whether the proposed trademark is likely to be confused with another mark on the trademark registry, it compares the applied-for marks against those on TESS. While Native American tribes are not legally required to submit their official tribal insignias to the database, doing so provides a protective benefit, as trademarks on the database may bar the registration of other confusingly similar marks.
To be eligible for inclusion in the database, the tribe must be recognized on the federal or state level. In addition, the tribal insignia must be adopted by tribal resolution and consist of a flag, coat of arms, other emblem, or device. A word or words alone are not considered tribal insignia, and are not entered in the database.
There is no fee or formal application needed to submit a request to be included in the database. The tribe simply needs to email NativeAmericanTribalInsigniaSubmissions@uspto.gov with the subject line “Native American tribal insignia submission,” and include the following as attachments: (1) a written request to enter the tribal insignia; (2) a JPG file of the tribal insignia; (3) a copy of tribal resolution adopting the tribal insignia as the official one; and (4) a statement, signed by an official with authority to bind the tribe, confirming that the tribal insignia submitted is the one referred to in the resolution. For those tribes recognized by a state government only, documents from a state official showing that the state recognizes the tribe or a citation to a state statute designating the entity as a tribe is also required.
You can see the updated Native American tribal insignia database page on the USPTO website here.