hells angels
November 21, 2020 Par FLASHMART No

The Hells Angels a protected brand

It is common knowledge that the Hells Angels logo and other club insignia are completely off limits to all but a select group of individuals. In the “rules world of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club,” investigative journalist Serge F. Kovaleski said in 2013, “only full members are allowed to wear the provocative patch.eur of the skull or both words of the club name, which, like the logo, are protected by law worldwide. Patches cannot be purchased. Ils cannot be won, and often it takes years.

Hells Angels

Fontana is an interior expanseeure arid and densely populated San Bernardino County, California, at the fronpart of the San Gabriel Mountains. This is where the Hells Angels started. A handful of young World War II veterans, 'weary of the boredom of civilian life', got together in the late 1940s to drink, ride cheap motorcycles thanks to a post-war surplus and , in general, spending time in the United States. ground. In the process, these men – many in their late teens – laid the foundation for what would become “a uniquely American subculture of hardened individualism, fierce brotherhood and disregard for societal mores” , as Kovaleski so aptly put it.

In the decade since the founding of the Fontana chapter, it will be joined by a number of other similar groups. According to the New York Times, “Throughout the 1950s, Hells Angels groups spread across California, eventually uniting into a confederation, with each club retaining its own autonomy. The now-famous club has since expanded much beyond the boundaries of California to include independent charters that dot the world - from Southern California and Manhattan to Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Sydney, to name but a few. only a few.

The group as a whole has aboutron 800 members across the United States and up to 2500 worldwide, according to the US Department of Justice. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms approximates the number to 5 members and at least 000 regular "hangers". As for Ralph “Sonny” Barger, who founded the Oakland charter in the late 10s when he was 000, he “refuses to say how many Hells Angel members there are,” said he experienced a kind of a “growth spurt. »

Despite a lack of clarity on the group's numbers, at least one aspect of its history is relatively clear; it is littered with legal issues that concern a vast empire of drug trafficking, stolen goods, racketeering and extortion. If we are to believe the roles of the courts in the United States, where members of this organization go, violent crimes tend to follow.

But look beyond headline-grabbing indictments, jury verdicts and lengthy prison sentences, and you'll see that over the past two decades or soron, another type of lawsuit has been associated with the group: intellectual property litigation.

As the stories unfold, if a Hells Angel member "sees someone with a Hells Angel patch who doesn't have their place on his back", he will rip him off and give him a brutal and often bloody lesson. “Angels have always dealt quickly with forgeries, impostseurs – taxeseurs,” wrote Intellectual Property magazine a few years ago. "That's one of the reasons the patch is so important: it's a mark of authenticity."

If the 70-year-old club learns that a company is using its legally – and sometimes physically – protected logos, its members take a markedly different approach; ils take legal action.

Court records across the country bear witness to this. In 1992, for example, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (“HAMC”) sued Marvel Entertainment Group over a Hells Angels-themed comic book. In the spring of 2006, the group took on a split from Walt Disney on the PG-13 rated film “Wild Hogs,” a comedy about middle-aged bikers, starring Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy. In 2011, ils are afflictedronties to Alexander McQueen, Saks Fifth Avenue and Zappos.com, challenging the manufacture and sale of handbags, Jewelry and clothes bearing patterns that were – at theeurs eyes – far too similar to the club's skull. wings skull design.

In all of these trials and the frenzy of others like them, Fritz Clapp, lawyer for HAMC - the elite group of motorcycle enthusiasts or the vicious gang that uses violence and intimidation to promote its criminal goals, as defined. that you adopt, the group or the United States Department of Justice - pointed out federal trademarks registered with the HAMC, some dating from the 1970s, and called infringement.

The former lawyer for the group can't recall exactly how he first found out that Saks Fifth Avenue was selling expensive fashion items bearing the skull logo. "I think a member from New York called me after learning that a non-member had seen them" in the high-end department store, if he remembers correctly, but cannot say for sure .
Alexander McQueen dress and ring and trademarks of the HAMC

Mr Clapp's nearly 25-year tenure with the club began in the early 1990s. 'At the time I was working as a biker rights lobbyist, and Sonny [Barger] was in jail as a result of a RICO deal," says Clapp. Berger, the head of the Oakland chapter and corporate branch of the Hells Angels, would ultimately be dropped from the system in November 1994 after serving a 4-year federal prison sentence and 2 years of parole stemming from his role in a nationwide conspiracy to bombard. a rival club, and celebrated with a party attended by 700 people, including the then United States Senateeur Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

In the meantime, although the Oakland-based Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation, the nonprofit mutual company that owns and retains all of the club's intellectual property rights, was facing an ever-increasing number of unauthorized uses. of its name and logos. His superiorseurs decided that the time was right to hire an in-house lawyer to handle their intellectual property affairs.

"We need a lawyer"

With Barger temporarily out of service, famed James "Guinea" Colucci, a close friend of Barger and a "full" member of the Oakland chapter of the HAMC, interviewed Clapp for the role.

Clapp says he came on the group's radar as a result of his work as a lobbyist for the Modified Motorcycle Association, in opposition to a '90s California state law that made helmets mandatory for everyone. motorcyclists. The law was passed, to the chagrin of the club - and Clapp -. “I still don't wear a helmet that meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218,” he says defiantly. "I resist thoroughly."

In his interview with Guinea, who, according to the Los Angeles Times, had just been "freed for trafficking in methamphetamines, cocaine, illegal weapons and explosives," Clapp said he was asked what he would do if anyone. one infringed any of the Hells Angels trademarks.

"I said, 'Well, we leur sendrons a “cease and desist” letter, Clapp recalled.

“What would you doils do not cease and desist?” Guinea continued.

"I said, 'Well, then I'm going to sue.eur ass,” Clapp replied.

“That was obviously the right answer,” he said more than 25 years later. Soon after, the lawyer wearing the red mohawk was recruited and would devote much of his professional career to helping what he calls "the most famous club in the world" to protect his precious intellectual property.

“I was hired in March 1992 by the non-profit HAMC company, which owns the trademarks and licenses them to charters,” he says. “I haven't worked for charters or members. I worked for this separate company, which owns the brands and sues mostly on behalf of the licensees. "

Although he watched – and to some extent, lived – the role, Clapp is not and never was a member of the club. “There are lawyers who are big enough and tough enough [to be members], but I'm not one of them. I'm just a little old me,” he says innocently enough in reference to a mild demeanor and stocky stature, compared to some of the band members, that is. “Also,” he adds, “it would have blurred the relationship or created some kind of conflict.”

With a plethora of tattoos, the bright red mohawk, a long-standing love for motorcycles (his current bike was a gift from the club's Oakland arm in 1994 or 95, he says), and a biker bar he called his, this particular lawyer had meaning for the role. "I was enough like them to understand and relate."

While Clapp, who graduated from Sacramento's McGeorge School of Law in 1981, was not the group's first lawyer, he is certainly the most famous. Two decades prior, the HAMC had hired an outside attorney, a traditional “suit” — as Clapp describes it — named John M. Romanchik, Jr. to register the band's name and various other logos with the US Patent and Trademark Office. . Romanchik mainly focused on getting the club's rights in order and "never had the opportunity to take legal action for trademark infringement", according to Clapp.


Highly publicized lawsuits

With an arsenal of trademark rights at his disposal, it was time to act, and Clapp did just that – filing more than a dozen high-profile lawsuits for the notorious “out-of-town” motorcycle club. law” against companies ranging from Marvel Comics to rapeur Young Jeezy. His goal was simple. The strategic lawsuits were not simply launched to "punish violators", but were part of an effort to "inform the public that the trademarks of the Hells Angels are well guarded, non-generic and not must not be violated,” Clapp told The Times in 2013.

In order to get the message across, Clapp says he used a "strategy of bringing cases of shock and awe and enlightening them to federal court and the media." His well-established penchant for the rigorous - and very public - protection of the group's hallowed brands eventually earned him the cover of Intellectual Property Magazine in March 2011. The buttoned-up legal trade publication dubbed him "The Lawyer From Hell." . The nickname would stick.

It's almost impossible not to realize that at the heart of the Hells Angels' open controversy over its intellectual property is a healthy dose of ironie. While the club's in-house attorney was busy filing trademark infringement lawsuits against Disney and Alexander McQueen, at least some of its members were actively making headlines for "causing death and destruction in California over the past last 10 years,” for example, or for landing on the wrong side of charges of “racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering — specifically, fraud, extortion, and trafficking in stolen motorcycles.”

The HAMC, very conscious of its image, has an explanation: those who act are “bad apples”. More than that, because each chapter is set place as an independent and managed entity, the Hells Angels subsidiary holding the intellectual property is - at

The HAMC, very conscious of its image, has an explanation: those who act are “bad apples”. More than that, because each Chapter is created as an independent and managed entity, the corporate arm of the Hells Angels, which owns the intellectual property, is - at least on paper - completely separate.

In a movement that speaks to the group's business - and legal - acumen, whenever a section or its members get a glimpse of the law, the self-proclaimed "non-profit mutual society" that is the organization figures bow of HAMC can accurately distance itself on the basis that such events are not technically related to HAMC as a whole.

“The Hells Angels care more about theeur image than any other criminal group," Julian Sher, a Montreal-based investigative journalist who has written extensively on motorcycle gangs, told Newsweek. The group's carefully crafted structure is just one example of its efforts to shield itself from what Barger called "exaggerated" accounts of crime and violence.

“Of course, I sold a few drugs, but I never made a claim for more.eurs millions [the media and procureurs]. If I did, I definitely wouldn't be working here today," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1994, referring to his now-defunct Oakland Custom Motorcycles repair and parts shop, located just across the street from the facade covered with stone. is the Clubhouse of the Oakland Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club. In terms of jail time: Barger spent “12 or 13 years” in jail, which he says is “not much, considering all the fun I've had.

As with everyone else who wears a Hells Angels crest? “I prefer to let them speak for themselves.”
Very contentious and very contentious

Mr Clapp is not immune to – or unwilling to talk about – the mixed messages associated with the club. He says he has always "reconciled" the apparent dichotomy in a twofold way. “Yes, there are Hells Angels who have committed crimes. There have even been entire charters that have conspired to commit crimes; Hell, there's been whole charters that have been dissolved because they've all been shut down. But, according to Clapp, "that doesn't mean the club as a whole is a conspiracy."

It also doesn't mean that the group's extremely valuable brand portfolio doesn't need as much protection and enforcement as any other company's. In fact, he says, given the level of awareness of HAMC, the need for protection is even greater.

Not only does the club maintain "a strong sense of having control over the exclusivity of the use of its membership marks," but HAMC's marks "are in danger of becoming generic," he said, referring to the 'use of a mark as a synonym for or descriptive of a general class of goods or services, as opposed to a single source. It is the death knell for solid brand rights.

The Hells Angels are "so famous," says Clapp, "thatils are the Kleenex of whatils are,” a reference to the widespread misuse of the formerly protected Kleenex trademark to refer to fabrics in general, thus depriving the Kleenex Company of its previously held trademark rights.

"I say it's in danger of becoming generic because if you go out on the street anywhere in the world and say, 'Name a famous motorcycle club', that's the only one you can name. ,” and thus, in Clapp’s eyes, a danger that the Hells Angels name would be used as a synonym for motorcycle clubs in general, thus no longer serving to identify a single group or source.

With this in mind, the group must control unauthorized uses of its trademarks, according to Clapp, and the principles of trademark law.

Meanwhile, Clapp, now 72, left his position with the group in 2016. “I still do occasional things, I still represent a few charters but not above membership marks,” says- he. This does not mean that the group has become less vigilant, however. As we speak, the HAMC is in the middle of a legal battle with Melbourne-based Redbubble in Australian federal court. According to the HAMC complaint, the online market has facilitated the sale by third parties of counterfeit Hells Angels products on its site.

As for Mr. Clapp, such vigilance on the part of a "famous brand" makes perfect sense.

What's less straightforward for him is why the band's polarizing public persona plays such a divisive role.eur regarding his right to benefit from legal protections. “People think that just because a group is represented in a certain way, ils are no longer allowed or should benefit from the law in other areas, such as intellectual property,” he says. "To me, it's so interesting." translated source