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Hells Angels take retailer, designer to court

The Hells Angels 'Death Head' logo shown on the back of a jacket worn by a member in Stratford Upon Avon, England.

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images/Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The Hells Angels have a reputation for fiercely protecting their turf - and that includes their winged skull logo.

The organization is suing high-end retailer Saks Inc. and British fashion designer Alexander McQueen Trading Ltd. for selling jewellery, handbags and other accessories that allegedly violate the Hells Angels' trademarks.

The goods in question - some labelled "Hells Angels Pashmina," "Hells Angels Jacquard Box Dress" and "Hells Knuckle Duster" - are confusingly similar to the group's "Death Head" marks, the lawsuit alleges.

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Unless Saks and McQueen "are restrained by this court, they will continue and/or expand the illegal activities alleged in this complaint and otherwise continue to cause great and irreparable damage and injury to [the Hells Angels]" alleges the lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles.

The group is demanding that the companies stop producing the products, recall any items in distribution and pay damages totalling three times whatever profit they made on the products.

A spokeswoman for Saks, which operates 48 Saks Fifth Avenue stores, declined comment on the lawsuit. Officials and Alexander McQueen (named after the famous British designer who committed suicide last February) were unavailable for comment.

The Hells Angels, described as a "non-profit mutual benefit corporation" in the lawsuit, were founded in California in 1948 and have several U.S. trademark registrations on their name and winged skull logo. The group's trademarks extend to a variety of products ranging from jewellery and pins to clocks, watches, calendars, key rings and "entertainment services namely arranging and conducting concerts, parties, rallies and special events," according to the lawsuit.

"From more than half a century of continuous and conspicuous usage, both the Hells Angels word mark and the [Hells Angels Motorcycle Corp.]Death Head design mark are famous," the lawsuit says. The name and logo "are widely known and recognized by the public as indicating the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club."

The organization makes it clear on its website that the logos are protected under copyright and it has gone to court before to protect their trademarks.

Last year, a children's clothing maker in Australia issued a public apology to the Hells Angels after the company violated the club's trademarks in a line of clothing called "Heavens Angels." In Toronto, the Hells Angels chapter went to court in 2009 to regain possession of logo-emblazoned items seized by police during a massive drug bust.

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And in 2006, Hells Angels sued Walt Disney Co. over a movie then in production called Wild Hogs, alleging that characters in the film would infringe on Hells Angels trademarks. The movie came out a year later, starring John Travolta, with no mention of Hells Angels.

The organization, which insists it is a club not a gang, says in its current lawsuit that "from decades of notoriety, the [Hells Angels]marks have acquired very widespread public recognition, consequently they evoke strong and immediate reactions whenever used."

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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