The battle between the government and motorcycle clubs engaged in illegal activity has spilled into trademark law. Federal prosecutors are asking a federal court to ban members of the Mongols motorcycle gang from wearing or distributing their trademarked logo and name.
More than 100 Mongols faced criminal charges in state and federal courts under a 2008 racketeering indictment accusing members of drug trafficking, torture, and murder.
Founded in southern California in 1969, the motorcycle club's logo consists of a sunglasses-wearing Mongol warrior on a motorcycle. According to the Los Angeles Times, the logo was trademarked by the now-incarcerated former Mongol president Ruben "Doc" Cavazos. Prosecutors are claiming that they may seize the logo as part of Cavazos guilty plea and because the mark was used while the Mongols were engaging in criminal activity.
In 2008, U.S. District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper granted an injunction that prohibited club members, their family members and associates from wearing, licensing, selling or distributing the Mongols logo, but a 2009 ruling overturned the ban. More recently, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright issued a preliminary order of forfeiture of the logo last year, reversed that order in September, and is now expected to give his final ruling soon.
One Man or a Membership?
The Mongols have argued that, even though Cavazos registered the trademark, it is a "collective membership mark," and as such identifies a group of people and cannot belong to one person. Their attorney, George Steele, told the times: "It's legally impossible for one person to own a collective membership mark, so if it's illegal, they can't take it."
If federal prosecutors could "take it," they would own the trademark to the logo, and could thus enforce their trademark rights by prohibiting anyone from wearing or using the mark. Anyone infringing on the trademark could be sued.