California suit to decide Mongols’ trademark control

Forfeiture laws allow the federal government to strip criminals of certain assets. Government agencies have a lot of leeway during property seizures, with the idea that convicts should not be able to hold on to real estate, vehicles, bank accounts and other assets acquired due to crimes.

Intellectual property is an asset. Can the government take that, too? A California federal case against the motorcycle club Mongols Nation, LLC, challenges the limits of the First Amendment’s free speech rights, the government’s seizure powers and the legitimate ownership of a trademark.

A massive six-state sweep in 2008 ended with the arrests and convictions of 80 Mongols motorcycle group members. Federal prosecutors described the Mongols as an “outlaw gang” who committed hard-core crimes like drug trafficking, extortion and murder, among many others.

When Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents conducted the simultaneous raids, the Mongols’ possessions were confiscated. Along with drugs, weapons and bikes the ATF also seized anything bearing the highly-identifiable, trademarked Mongols logo — a pony-tailed biker wearing sunglasses, found mostly on patches worn by club members — a violence “incentive,” according to the government.

At the time, a federal judge ruled the government could not tear off the patches worn by Mongols members to “break the club’s back” or seize the group’s registered trademark. The case was active in 2010, when a second judge concurred with the by-then deceased judge’s ruling.

That didn’t stop the judge from offering the government a little advice. He recommended federal attorneys try prosecuting the Mongols as an “entity.” The reworked government case, headed to an appeals court in March, collectively accuses all Mongols of being criminals.

Mongols attorneys have argued the patch seizure is a First Amendment violation. Some legal analysts believe the government is stretching it, by trying to claim trademarked patches are as dangerous or seize-able as the individuals who wear them.

Source: pasadenastarnews.com, “U.S. to use trademark law to go after Mongols patch” Frank Girardot, Oct. 26, 2013