On October 21, the Department of Justice announced an indictment of 61 members of the Mongols Motorcycle Club. The details of the criminal charges are beyond my scope of interest. However, this bit warrants some attention:
“In addition to pursuing the criminal charges set forth in the indictment, for the first time ever, we are seeking to forfeit the intellectual property of a gang,” said United States Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien. “The name ‘Mongols,’ which is part of the gang’s ‘patch’ that members wear on their motorcycle jackets, was trademarked by the gang. The indictment alleges that this trademark is subject to forfeiture. 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.” (source)
This sounds like a little bit of extra bluster. The Mongols do have a registered trademark, and it is not unheard of for trademarks to be subject to civil and/or criminal forfeiture. However, even if the court grants the DOJ’s request and the Mongols must forfeit their trademark, I can’t see how that would give anyone the right to “take the jacket off [anyone’s] back.”
First of all, there are only 79 defendants in the indictment, and 71 of them are in custody. I suppose that the court could make it a bail condition that the indicted members may not display the club’s trademark while out on bail. It may also be possible for the court to grant an injunction prohibiting the 79 Club members who have been named as defendants from displaying the Mongols’ trademark. However, the Mongols have thousands of members – the vast majority of whom have not been indicted. Even if the DOJ gets ownership of the trademark, that does not give them (or anyone else) the right to seize a lawfully-purchased jacket, made before the DOJ took possession of the mark.
If the indictments are valid, guilty parties should answer for their actions. But, this intellectual property gambit should be squashed like a bug.
HT: James Grimmelman