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Hells Angels File Trademark Suit Against Designer Alexander McQueen

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on November 01, 2010 1:09 PM

Who would have guessed the Hells Angels even knew what a trademark is? It seems the leather-wearing, Harley-riding motorcycle gang has a solid understanding of how to protect their intellectual property. Case in point: the bad boy bikers have filed suit against the label bearing the name of the bad boy of haute couture: Alexander McQueen.

The Hells Angeles filed their trademark suit against McQueen for his use of the death's head insignia on rings, purses and dresses, according to The Los Angeles Times. How was the designer label busted for its alleged use of the infringing words "Hells," "Hells Angels" and the insignia of the death's head? The usual way: one of the Angels' girlfriends was shopping online and saw a ring on Saks.com.

The Angels' IP attorney, Fritz Clapp, was alerted to the designs and started the rumble. The Times reports the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, relies on multiple trademark registrations protecting the Hells Angels name and death's head insignia from being copied in jewelry, key rings and other tchotchkes without permission. Saks Fifth Avenue and Zappos.com are also named defendants in the suit, for allegedly selling the infringing merchandise.

Despite the clear registration history of their trademarks, do not assume the Angels are riding off with an easy victory in this trademark suit. A key element in a successful trademark case is proving that the consumer would be confused by the origin of the goods or services in question. Items cited in the suit, according to BusinessWeek, are a "Hells Angels" Pashmina, retailing for $560 and the Hells Angels Jacquard Box Dress, ringing up at $1,595.

This begs the question: Would a consumer who would spend that amount of money on a dress or scarf be confused as to the origin of these products? Would the market for a death's head keychain and a cashmere scarf cross over? These are exactly the kind of questions that could be raised in this case.

And yet, don't underestimate (as if we would) the Hell's Angels chances. The Times reports that in 1992, the Angels sued Marvel Entertainment Group over a Hells Angels comic book. The suit was dismissed after Marvel agreed to change the name Dark Angel and donated $20,000 to Ronald McDonald's charities.

McQueen's label, which is owned by the Gucci Group, has not commented on the trademark suit. The designer behind the hellacious designs committed suicide in February, 2010. God save McQueen.

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