You probably know the Hells Angels as a scary motorcycle club. What you probably didnt know is that they actually own a trademark registration for the mark HELLS ANGELS. So this bunch of motorcycle guys isnt just your run of the mill club, but a real association that has the right to allow or prevent others from using their trademark.
In fact, the Hells Angels even have a lawyer! And their lawyer has filed a lawsuit against Amazon.Com, Wildfox and others that produced and sold a t-shirt only with the words My Boyfriend is a Hells Angel and wings on the back that are slightly similar to wings used by the Hells Angels. So what does all of this mean? According to the Hells Angels attorney who filed the lawsuit, their purpose in doing so was not necessarily to punish the infringer, but to educate the public and make them aware that HELLS ANGELS is a trademark.
So what does this mean for the small business owner? It means PAY ATTENTION! When you are coming up with trademarks or slogans or taglines for your products, make sure that you arent using something that belongs to someone else. If you come up with something reminiscent of something else, chances are that you are infringing on someone elses rights. Lawsuits are expensive and equally expensive to defend yourself against. If you are unsure of whether you are infringing on someone elses rights, seek the advise of an attorney. It may seem like a large expense but it could prevent you from having to defend a lawsuit which could cause you to go out of business. Another tip if you are just a retailer, either online or brick and mortar, make sure you know what you are selling and make sure you have a written agreement that will allow indemnification in cases such as this.
Know your rights and know what you are getting into it before you do it. And always seek the help of someone who is in the know.
Farah Bhatti, Trademark Attorney