Fritz Clapp, the self-described “lawyer from hell” who has represented “the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation in trademark and related business matters” for more than two decades is involved in a small dustup with Harley-Davidson.
Clapp (above) has filed numerous trademark infringement suits on behalf of the Angels. Last August he filed suit against Wildfox Couture, LLC and amazon.com, In the last three years Clapp and the Angels have also sued Saks Fifth Avenue, fashion house Alexander McQueen and godaddy.com. In previous years the club sued Marvel Comics and the Walt Disney Company.
“We bring these lawsuits from time to time not just to punish but to educate,” Clapp told the Los Angeles Times last summer. “Somebody thought erroneously that Hells Angels is a generic term.”
Clapp is now representing, pro bono, a Delaware shopping center contractor and internet entrepreneur named James Coulbourne. Coulbourne operates three websites including Camospace.com, a social networking site for hunters, and a social networking site for mothers and “mom bloggers” called momnbaby.com. He caught the attention of the motor company after he bought a domain named harleyspace.com and decided to turn that into a social networking site for bikers about six weeks ago.
Last month Judy Henslee, Harley-Davidson’s Manager of Global Brand Protection sent Coulbourne a letter complaining: “we are aware that you have registered and are using the domain name HarleySpace.com to direct users to a social networking site; that you are using HarleySpace in a manner suggesting that it is a legal entity by, for example, claiming copyrights in its name; that you have created and are using a graphic logo incorporating the name HarleySpace, which constitutes trademark use; and that you use this name and logo on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, among other web sites. You are also e-mailing Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealers, inviting them to join your social networking site.”
“I really admire the company,” Coulbourne told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “And it’s not like I am trying to sell motorcycles with the name Harley on them.”
Harley’s brand warlord disagrees. “Your use of our trademark in the above-identified manner is likely to cause confusion, mistake, or deception in the marketplace,” Henslee wrote, “in that consumers are likely to believe that your web site is somehow affiliated with, sponsored, or approved by Harley-Davidson, when this is not the case. Your actions are also likely to dilute the character of our famous trademark. Under the circumstances, it is our view that your conduct constitutes trademark infringement, unfair competition, and trademark dilution.”
Fritz Clapp thinks the dispute is about freedom of speech. “There are limits” to trademark protection he told the Journal Sentinel.
And, in his response to Harley Clapp wrote, “The noncommercial services of HarleySpace.com are easily and immediately distinguishable from the commercial merchandise offered and sold bearing the Harley brand.”
Intellectual property enthusiasts can find an interview with Fritz Clapp here