Federal prosecutors gang up on Mongol’s logo

Trademark infringement isn’t usually the kind of lawsuit you see come up between gang members and law enforcement officials, but it is the latest method federal prosecutors are using to try to disband the California-based Mongols. Mongols members wear a distinct logo that government prosecutors say could land them in jail.

The intellectual property dispute over the logo featuring the caricature of a mostly bald man with sunglasses is at the center of a lawsuit that is trying to apply police pressure to gang members who wear it. A former president of the Mongols gang had the logo registered and trademarked several years ago, which gave the government legal inroads.

Although some feel it could violate constitutional rights, federal prosecutors are planning to argue that anyone wearing the gang’s logo can be stopped by law enforcement since the logo is attached to reported gang crimes.

Three years ago, during a federal racketeering case against Mongols members, attorneys used the argument that since the logo was attached to known criminal activities, it was possible for a court injunction to end the use of the logo. Initially, the judge in the case ruled in the government’s favor, but reversed his decision when the Mongols disputed that the logo was member-owned and not the property of just one person.

Some observers wonder whether the government’s latest claims will convince a judge that stripping the Mongols’ of a logo will do anything to prevent alleged crimes. Others question whether a logo ban could be applied to a gang member who wears the trademark as a tattoo.

Some law enforcement officials are worried that, rather than reduce potential crime, a successful federal case may erase a trademark that actually helps warn police by identifying gang members.

Source: Intellectual Property Brief, “Trademark Law: The New Weapon Against Gangs?” Yeve Chitiga, 4 July 2011