OK all you Hell’s Angels fans out there.. Sit up and pay attention.
When you think of high profile Federal cases in US courts of a brand suing multiple parties for brand infringement, the last group you would think about is the well-established and notorious motorcycle club – ‘The Hells Angels’.
The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) is a worldwide motorcycle club whose members typically ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles and is considered an organized crime syndicate by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Their iconic logo can be seen on everything from mugs, fridge magnets, bumper stickers and t-shirts. Utilizing a system of patches, similar to military medals, bikers have a coded meaning for each which are often unknown to outsiders. The official colors of the Hells Angels are red lettering displayed on a white background—hence the club’s nickname “The Red and White”. These patches are worn on leather or denim jackets and vests.
So why are well known brands like Toys “R” Us, Alexander McQueen, Amazon, Saks, Zappos, Walt Disney and Marvel Comics being sued by HAMC’s lawyers? Simple, the club (despite of their criminal association) depicts coolness and stylish edge. Some would even go as far as calling it ‘Criminal Chic’ and other brands like to cash in on it’s icon-like brand to sell their own product. The Hells Angels and their lawyers are not standing for any of it.
So next time you see a clean cut lawyer sporting a single breasted Zegna suit with a patch sewn on the back – make way, coz the Angels are in town!
PHOENIX — Fritz Clapp, a 67-year-old lawyer with a bright red mohawk, practices intellectual property law. Years ago, his clients were “small-time businesses that nobody had ever heard of.” Then he found something bigger. Today, Mr. Clapp, an eloquent and irreverent man known to wear a purple fez during negotiations with other lawyers, represents the interests of a group not commonly associated with intellectual property: the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. His main role is not as a bulldog criminal defense counsel for the notorious group but as a civilized advocate in its relentless battle to protect its many registered trademarks.
Just in the past seven years, the Hells Angels have brought more than a dozen cases in federal court, alleging infringement on apparel, jewelry, posters and yo-yos. The group has also challenged Internet domain names and a Hollywood movie — all for borrowing the motorcycle club’s name and insignias. The defendants have been large, well-known corporations like Toys “R” Us, Alexander McQueen, Amazon, Saks, Zappos, Walt Disney and Marvel Comics. And they have included a rapper’s clothing company, Dillard’s and a teenage girl who was selling embroidered patches on eBay with a design resembling the group’s “Death Head” logo.
The Hells Angels remain etched in the popular imagination as sullen, heavily muscled men in leather vests who glare from behind raised handlebars, ready to take on anyone who crosses them — rebels with no particular cause but their own form of ritualized brotherhood. But over the years, the group collectively made a leap from image to brand, becoming a recognizable marque and promoting itself on items as varied as T-shirts, coffee mugs and women’s yoga pants. Sonny Barger, 75, the longtime Hells Angels leader, at times has offered his own online bazaar of goods that bear his name: sunglasses, bottles of cabernet sauvignon and books he has written.