Federal investigators have hit a California biker gang where it hurts – by seizing the group’s trademark. The Mongols OutLaw Biker Gang [website] attracted the attention of the DoJ’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Department, with 61 indictments issued today. Search warrants were issued in six states yesterday, following a long undercover investigation. Gang members’ bikes were impounded, but it’s the seizure of the Mongol’s trademark that will raise eyebrows.
Under Federal racketeering laws, introduced in 1970 to counter organised crime, “any property, real or personal, which represents or is traceable to the gross proceeds obtained, directly or indirectly,” can be forfeited from indictment for specific criminal activity.
So, what’s the DoJ doing grabbing IP? Well, the DoJ’s Thomas O’Brien says it’s because the gang initially trademarked the name Mongols and the distinctive design as part of their patch. In a statement, he explained:
“We have filed papers seeking a court order that will prevent gang members from using or displaying the name ‘Mongols.’ If the court grants our request for this order, then if any law enforcement officer sees a Mongol wearing his patch, he will be authorized to stop that gang member and literally take the jacket right off his back.”
But not so fast.
Trademark law requires the owner to assert authority by continuous lawful use of the design. The Department of Justice must now fulfill this obligation. It could do so, for example, selling mugs or T-shirts with the Mongols MC logo. Or perhaps even incorporating it into its own “patch”.
So today the Department of Justice’s seal looks like this:
But it may need to look like this:
Or even this: