In decades past, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club settled disputes the old-fashioned way, with a swift kick in the groin or a punch in the face to the offending party. On Monday, the outlaw club opted for a more civilized action. It filed a lawsuit against the designer fashion label Alexander McQueen, along with retailers Saks Fifth Avenue and Zappos, claiming they illegally sold McQueen items that use the trademarked Hells Angels name and death head design in rings, clutch purses, scarves and dresses.
“There’s no doubt in my mind the designer had seen the death head mark,” said Hells Angels’ intellectual property attorney, Fritz Clapp, who filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
One week prior, Clapp had received a text message from a club member’s fiancee who was shopping online and saw a “Hells four-finger ring” on Saksfifthavenue.com that was strikingly similar to the winged skull the club had used as its logo for decades. Clapp continued his online search and soon also found a “Hells knuckle duster” clutch purse for sale on Zappos.com.
“Then I go to Alexander McQueen’s site and I find not only is the word ‘Hells’ used on those things, but ‘Hells Angels,’ the whole phrase, on a pashmina scarf and a Jacquard dress,” Clapp said. “If you’d said to the designer, ‘Just give me a side view skull with feathers coming off of it and they’d never seen the death head or a Hells Angels patch and they’d just come from Mars, it’s still closer than comfort.”
Clapp said he opted to file a suit rather than send a cease-and- desist letter because “it has a certain instructive quality in the public and in the market: Advertisers and businesses and lawyers are reminded that the Hells Angels name and logo are protected marks, commercially as well as on the street.”
The Hells Angels lawsuit relies on a 1982 registration protecting the Hells Angels name and multiple registrations from 1984, 2002, 2007 and 2009 protecting the death head from being copied in jewelry, clocks, watches, earrings, key rings and other items without permission.
The newest lawsuit is the latest in a string of trademark infringement suits the club has filed since 1992, when the club sued Marvel Entertainment Group over a Hells Angels comic book; the suit was settled when Marvel changed the name of the comic to Dark Angel and donated $20,000 to Ronald McDonald’s charities. After subsequent lawsuits against a skateboard manufacturer and an action sportswear line, the club, in 2006, sued Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group for its potential portrayal of the club in the film "Wild Hogs." That suit was voluntarily dismissed.
The current lawsuit seeks the immediate removal of the Alexander McQueen items from sale and display. Spokespeople for Alexander McQueen and Saks Fifth Avenue had no comment on the suit.
The defendants have until Nov. 15 to respond to the complaint.
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