Gang warfare just isn’t what it used to be…

The Hells Angels motorcycle gang, sorry, make that “non-profit mutual benefit corporation” (according to their complaint), also names Saks (the operator of high-end department store Saks Fifth Avenue in New York) and Zappos.com (an online retailer owned by Amazon) as defendants.  Hells Angels claims all three parties illegally manufacture, source, market and/or sell jewellery, apparel and accessories that infringe and dilute their trade marks.

According to the complaint, Hells Angels have used the word mark HELLS ANGELS and the design mark depicting a skull with wings since at least 1948, and registered various trade marks in categories such as clothing and jewellery with the USPTO in 1982, 1984, 2002, 2007 and 2009.

This is one of the Hells Angels’ registered trade marks:

I took one for the team and researched some of McQueen’s designs online.  A quick look at cached pages from McQueen’s official website via Google reveals products such as “Hells Angels silk scarf”, “Hells Angels boot-cut leather trousers” and “Hells Angels jacquard box dress”.  Matching leggings are available for those who are interested.  The designs all feature motifs of skulls and wings.  There is also a “Hell’s Four Finger” knuckleduster ring that is particularly similar to the registered trade mark, and a clutch handbag featuring the same ring as the handle. 

Below are some examples of the goods that were for sale on the defendants’ websites.

The knuckleduster ring:

Matching clutch:

“Hells Angels” branded dress and pashmina:

But while the similarities between the Hells Angels’ trade marks and the names and designs used in relation to the goods in question are clear, the case is not so easily won.  Under US law, Hells Angels still need to prove consumers would be confused as to the origin of the goods and believe there was a legitimate connection between Hells Angels and the McQueen designs for their action to succeed.

Somewhat surprisingly, Hells Angels are fairly active in the intellectual property protection world.  This action is just the latest in a string of trade mark infringement lawsuits the club has filed.  Past claims have been brought against Marvel Comics, Walt Disney, Mambo, cybersquatters and eBay sellers for unauthorised use of the Hells Angels registered trade marks or sale of goods featuring the marks.

Interestingly, Hells Angels’ trade marks are also registered in Australia.  Because McQueen has no corporate presence here and none of the label’s infringing conduct took place here, Hells Angels are unable to sue the designer in our jurisdiction.  However, like Saks and Zappos.com, any Australian retailers who have imported and are selling the infringing goods could be liable under the Trade Marks Act for infringement, as well as misleading or deceptive conduct and passing off claims under the Trade Practices Act. 

God save McQueen.

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