The Sturgis Lawsuit

November 5, 2015

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The Sturgis Lawsuit

Last Friday, an eight person federal jury in Rapid City, South Dakota ordered retailer Walmart and a Rapid City souvenir shop called  Rushmore Photo and Gifts to pay the nonprofit Sturgis Motorcycle Rally corporation $790,000 in damages for trademark infringement.

The suit, which was filed in June 2011, has featured extensive lawyering, a countersuit and a nine day trial. Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Inc. has asked federal district judge Jeffrey Viken to make the defendants pay for all the lawyers.

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Inc. is the official sponsor of the Sturgis Rally and it has trademarked “Sturgis,” “Sturgis Motorcycle Rally,” “Sturgis Rally & Races,” “Take The Ride To Sturgis” and “Sturgis Bike Week.” The corporation has also trademarked the official Sturgis rally logotype or picture mark. The oldest of these trademarks dates to 1997 and the most recent was registered in 2011, just before the suit was filed, The rally began in 1938. An estimated 739,000 people attended this year.

Paying Sturgis

The nonprofit corporation licenses the right to use those trademarks and the resulting revenue provides a significant part of the annual budget of the city of Sturgis, South Dakota, In its complaint, the corporation said it had used the royalties generated from the sale of licensed goods and sponsorships “to the betterment of the Sturgis community, such as by making contributions to over 90 different causes and organizations, including the Meade County summer school program, Salvation Army’s food cupboard, Sturgis Arts Council, Sturgis Jaycees, Sturgis Little League, Sturgis Police Department D.A.R.E. program, Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department, Black Hills Area Habitat for Humanity, Crisis Intervention Shelter, special projects of the City of Sturgis, and Girl Scouts of the USA.”

The defendants sold t-shirts and various souvenirs and trinkets that featured images of motorcycles, the word mark “Sturgis” and other non-trademarked slogans like “motor classic” and “ride with pride.” They have been arguing for the last four years that Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Inc. had obtained the trademarks fraudulently.

They also argued that the corporation could not trademark the name of a city and that was what the case boiled down to.


The issue has come up before. In 2006, Abercrombie & Fitch threatened to sue merchants in Hollister, California for putting their city’s name on shirts and pants. Occasionally since 1947 Hollister, like Sturgis, has also sponsored large motorcycle rallies. Abercrombie & Fitch claimed it had simply dreamed up the word Hollister and trademarked it as a brand of clothing. Abercrombie & Fitch sent Hollister merchants cease and desist orders but they never actually brought suit against any of them because until now nobody had ever successfully trademarked the name of a city.

At the time, Hollister City Attorney Stephanie Atigh said what most lawyers thought. “There is no way you can trademark Hollister, California. It’s a geographical place.”

Mark Lemley, an intellectual property expert at Stanford University agreed. “If all you are doing is identifying your city’s name on your shirt, you are not engaged in trademark use,” he said. And Abercrombie & Fitch’s lawyers agreed.

But the jury in South Dakota just disagreed. They said the geographical place name “Sturgis” could be trademarked if it appeared on a shirt with a motorcycle on it.

If the verdict holds up, there may be a rush to trademark “Daytona,” “Laughlin” and “Laconia.”

The defendants have not yet given notice of appeal.


61 Responses to “The Sturgis Lawsuit”

  1. Shovelhead Says:

    The problem with Laconia Bike Week is Laconia!! Those fucking assholes on the Bike Week committee have turned a good Biker Rally into a Family affair, made it safe for the Yuppie scumbag pretend bikers to attend who were afraid to come before. They took all the fun right out of it!
    Actually, it hasn’t been good since the Town passed a no nudity ordinance.
    Remember when the Biker Chics would flash their Boobs riding down the strip? And every bike lined up was different? Panheads, Flatheads, Indians, Choppers!!
    Now it’s Baby carriages and Street Glides. Ugh!!

  2. Tooj Says:

    What I saw was that the folks who made Sturgis became disillusioned with those that jumped in and tried to create a gravy train and something “trendy”.

    That and the Sturgis Parrots:
    “I went to Sturgis. Squawk!”
    “Did you go to Sturgis? Squawk!”
    “I got drunk at Sturgis. Squawk!”
    “I got a Sturgis t-shirt. Squawk!”
    “Polly wanna Sturgis. Squawk!”
    “Sturgis, Sturgis, Sturgis. Squawk!”

  3. rollinnorth Says:

    Meanwhile, back up here:

    “Public debates how to improve Bike Week
    November 12, 2015

    Explaining the falling attendance, Mike Boudreau simply remarked ‘rain and police,’ noting that bikers seldom return after one bad experience with the police.”


  4. troll 1% Says:

    @ bcnasty my regrets for giving my thanks to the wrong disrespect intended.i caught my fuck up right after it happened but I aint as smart as this keyboard ,so it took me til now to get my thoughts out .ride long and hard especially with one or two good friends. FTF FTATF FTDEA AND EVERY OTHER LEO THAT CAME THRU MY DOOR LAST OCTOBER

  5. VAGO 1%er Says:

    I use cut and paste. A LOT.

  6. ElleElle Says:

    OH hell-what happened to the edit feature in here for those of us with less than stellar spelling capabilities? phUquehed??

  7. ElleElle Says:

    Heh heh heh is spot on about Phiquehed being on the view-lol. Getting back to Sturgis- There WAS an incident involving tequila and a bull but I have no complete memory of it all, now…heh heh heh.

  8. Sieg Says:

    I have it on good authority that Phuquehead was invited to be one of the HOSTS of “The View”, but he told ’em he couldn’t stand the stink of that much nigger pussy in the same room. He coulda been a contender.

    Kenny 1%’er, HD tee-shirts…the dealerships GAVE THEM THE FUCK AWAY. We- the guys that rode n wrenched our own Shovels (late-models shit!) Pans, Flatties, n Knucks, were their lifeblood, and they damn well knew it. Every time I stepped into the dealer I went to, I walked out with shirts, posters, banners, whatever they had to give away. Bought a battery? Shit, here’s three shirts, and thanks! I haven’t worn one since they started actually selling the damn things.

    Sad but true..I went into Kutter’s HD in Janesville, Wisco, back in maybe 2000? Right after Rudi bought it coming back from Sturgis, anyhow. So, the clothes bimbo comes up to me as I’m waiting at the counter to get my 105, and asks if I’m interested in some tee-shirts. I say sure, thinking she’s gonna give em to me, and when she tells me how much they cost, I start laughing, told her that I had just used about 20 old ones from the 70s/8-‘s to wrap some painted tanks I shipped to Germany to build a bike for a friend.

    Then SHE started laughing, told me that the old ones were selling for up to a few hundred a pop…THEN!

    Guess that’s where the old “Born To Lose” tattoo comes from…


  9. VAGO 1%er Says:

    @ Tom- Did you even think about what you were posting or are you just another obsessive compulsive asshole cop?

    @ Dasein- You dont know shit about Phuquehed. But I do know you are stirring shit by posting crap like that.

  10. Dasein Says:

    @Big Ang Diamondback: Very much agreed, and I know he’s got a sense of humor, hence the joke.

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