Home » Copyright/Intellectual Property » How to Crush an Outlaw Biker Club: Seize Its … Logo?

How to Crush an Outlaw Biker Club: Seize Its … Logo?

27 January 2019

From The New York Times:

For many years, federal law enforcement authorities have been trying to take down the Mongols, a biker group they consider one of the most dangerous criminal enterprises in the country.

They have infiltrated it with undercover agents. They have hammered members with charges ranging from drug dealing to money laundering to murder. They have conducted mass arrests that resulted in dozens of guilty pleas, including one by a past president.

But after a decade of trying, they have failed to deliver what they view as the coup de grâce: seizing control of the Mongols’ trademarked logo, a drawing of a brawny Genghis Khan-like figure sporting a queue and sunglasses, riding a chopper while brandishing a sword.

Now, in a racketeering trial underway in Orange County, Calif., federal prosecutors believe they have their best chance yet to take the Mongols’ intellectual property, using a novel approach to asset forfeiture law, which allows the seizure of goods used in the commission of crimes.

. . . .

Prosecutors argue that taking the logo will deprive the group of its “unifying symbol” — the banner under which prosecutors say the group marauds.

If federal prosecutors have their way, one of them boasted at an earlier point in the court battle, the police could stop any Mongol and “literally take the jacket right off his back.”

. . . .

But legal experts question the prosecutors’ grasp of intellectual property law. “Trademark rights are not tangible personal property like a jacket. They are intangible rights,” said Evan Gourvitz, an intellectual property lawyer with the law firm Ropes & Gray in New York. “But prosecutors are treating a trademark like a jacket.”

The Mongols are equally mystified. The logo — also called a patch — is emblazoned on the vests, T-shirts and motorcycles of hundreds of members.

“Lots of brothers have tattoos of the marks on their necks and heads and everywhere,” David Santillan, the national president of the club, said. “How do you regulate that?”

. . . .

“The patch is like the American flag to these guys and speaks to the identity of the club, the individual and the culture,” said William Dulaney, a retired associate professor who is an expert on motorcycle groups. “Some clubs have the rule that if the colors even touch the ground, they have to be destroyed.”

The Mongols’ marks, like those of other biker groups, are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Clubs have aggressively protected their patches from unauthorized use.

The Hells Angels have gone after large corporations including Toys “R” Us, the Alexander McQueen fashion line, Amazon, Saks, and Walt Disney, accusing them of infringement on its death’s head logo — a skull in a winged helmet — and other club symbols.

. . . .

But prosecutors argue that the patch is the flag under which Mongols carry out unlawful acts and intimidate the public.

“The government will show that the marks served as unifying symbols of an enterprise dedicated to intimidating and terrorizing everyone who is not a member,” they wrote in a court filing, “and assaulting and killing those who have sworn their loyalty to other outlaw motorcycle gangs.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Copyright/Intellectual Property

5 Comments to “How to Crush an Outlaw Biker Club: Seize Its … Logo?”

  1. And this is a lawyer, for the government, that people are always so keen to give more power too. I’m all for stopping violent criminals but this is just stupid.

  2. Does Disney have the power to rip my pirated Mickey Mouse jacket off my back?

    If Iger rides around with a cop, can he tell the cop to rip my jacket off?

    • Does Disney have the power to rip my pirated Mickey Mouse jacket off my back?

      I am absolutely certain that Disney’s lawyers can come up with a legal argument that they do. And they’ll make you pay for the argument and the ripping.

  3. The quest to gain control of the Mongols’ colors began in 2008, when the tactic was suggested by members of the prosecution team at the United States attorney’s office, said Thomas P. O’Brien, who led the office at the time. “We were looking for a way to have real impact and we knew this was going to be a test case,” he said.

    I may be cynical here, but I don’t believe that this is what they’re testing. It’s more likely that being able to seize the IP of people they don’t like — “bad people” — is the ultimate fruit they want to pick. They’re just using unsympathetic victims to set the precedent.

    After all, could they not use the Al Capone Maneuver** and go after these guys for not paying their taxes, or some such? The point is that not paying taxes is an actual crime; flying particular “colors” isn’t.

    **I just made that up. I don’t know what it’s call it when the feds get you on lesser crimes (taxes) because they can’t get you on greater grimes (murder).

    • “I may be cynical here, but I don’t believe that this is what they’re testing. It’s more likely that being able to seize the IP of people they don’t like — “bad people” — is the ultimate fruit they want to pick. They’re just using unsympathetic victims to set the precedent.”

      Known as the thin wedge. Get something pushed through against a ‘bad guy’ or ‘for the children’, and then use it against everyone else you want to attack. Which is how we got all those bad laws after nine – eleven, the terrorists actually won that fight.

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