Sturgis Name. A Valid Trademark? Or Belonging To All?

Not surprisingly, as the Sturgis Rally got started on August 6, public relation campaigns were launched by both parties opposing each other about the legal right and stated benefits to have or not the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and variations of the name registered as trademarks.

On one side, SMRI, owner of several of these trademarks since about 1 1/2 years, continues to argue that the development of a licensing program related to the trademarked “brand” maximizes the value of the intellectual property of the Sturgis® Motorcycle Rally(TM) and helps in allocating its revenue in the community to help fuel the local economy.On the other side, opponents led by Rushmore Photo & Gifts Inc.has taken legal action against SMRI arguing that “Sturgis”is the common name for the annual motorcycle rally that is held annually in and around Sturgis, and that according to common law is a generic name and can’t be a valid trademark. Nonetheless, Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Inc. (“SMRI”) has claimed that it exclusively owns the name “Sturgis” as it relates to the rally, and last year SMRI sued Rushmore Photo & Gifts, Inc. (“Rushmore”) for trademark infringement over Rushmore‟s decades-long use of “Sturgis” on its rally merchandise. As a reference, last year a federal court in Florida held that the name “Daytona Beach Bike Week” was generic of describing an event and consequently could not be a valid trademark.

Regarding the legal process, Rushmore moved for dismissal based on fraud on the Trademark Office, citing extensive evidence that SMRI‟s predecessor-in-interest, the Sturgis Area Chamber of Commerce, defrauded the Trademark Office knowing that its use of the name “Sturgis” was not exclusive and that “Sturgis” primarily referred to the rally itself, not the Chamber. Although its response papers to Rushmore‟s dismissal motion were due on July 20th, Rushmore states that SMRI did not substantively respond. If you wish to know the facts, the law, and form a judgment about where lies public and bikers interest, evidence presented by both parties, summary judgment motion material are available for you to read at the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota‟s Website.

The Sturgis name litigation will culminate around May 2013 when a trademark judge will decide to cancel or to confirm the current trademarks held by SMRI. In Sturgis this year you could buy the “official” merchandise or many other “non-official” designs from a very large number of vendors. I am not aware and was not informed of any actions made by SMRI to shut down these vendors selling their own Sturgis and Black Hills merchandise.

13 Responses to “Sturgis Name. A Valid Trademark? Or Belonging To All?”

  1. 1 Scott Aug 11th, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    It’s pretty simple. Vote with your money. Mine will not be spent on any SMRI items, only Mom & Pop joints. It’s the big money hunters that are ruining these events. People want to go and have fun not put up with this kind of crap. No different than Harley, I’ll buy the bike but they can keep the rest of that logo’d nonsense or sell it to the weekend chrome polishers so I don’t have to actually see it out on the roads.

  2. 2 Mike Pate Aug 11th, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    I believe there’s room for both sides on this one. For those that are lucky enough to actually make the trip they can pick up local merchandise, for those that aren’t able to make the trip SMRI is able to put there stamp on items and let people do the next best thing to being there. They have to have some protection on a national basis for their investment and local people should still be able to use the Sturgis name.

  3. 3 Ray Aug 11th, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    SMRI will probably end up losing in court (re: Daytona Bike Week.) The Sturgis name belongs to all, not to a bunch of greedy businessmen taking a cut each time a tee is sold. The Legend Ride, the Hamsters group, etc raise more money in one day for charities than this group will ever do in one rally or several. Judge, punish these suckers.

  4. 4 Tom Aug 12th, 2012 at 8:02 am

    ALL …….

  5. 5 Renegade Classics Aug 12th, 2012 at 8:36 am

    Don’t be fooled. SMRI is not for the community, all the profits go into about 3-5 individuals pockets. And about 80% of it goes into one persons pocket. They lied on their application, it will be proven in court, the shirt prices will come back down to $10, and everyone will benefit.

  6. 6 Rodent Aug 12th, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Just move the rally to SPEARFISH, it’s a better name, better place, and will look better on tshirts.

  7. 7 Darryl Briggs Aug 13th, 2012 at 9:02 am

    For the second year I bought as much non-official, non-SMRI merchandise that I could.

    I remembered that Walmart had also challanged SMRI’s right to “Sturgis” and noticed that on many of their prodcuts, they actually silkscreened in small print “not affiliated with SMRI”…. Good for them.

    For those that don’t think it maters, I can tell you for sure that two years ago, BEFORE all this came up, prices seemed to be relatively cheaper than what they were the last two years. And there were multiple vendors that offered a “T-Shirt of the Day” for a great value. I didn’t see any “T-Shirt of the day” offers last year and only saw one this year.

    Finally., last year I stopped in at Toms T’s. The main store on Lazalle as you come into town. i apoke with a young man just clekring there and brought up the whole SMRI mess. He mentioned that they had to actually have all their “official” shirts silk screened at approved SMRI places and not their own. Hasn’t Tom been designing the official design for years? He’ was a local Sturgis resident, I’m sure he hired a lot of Sturigs residents, and now they were forced to put money into Berkowitz and other non-Sturgis pockets. RIP Tom.

    Anyway, just remember, SMRI is owned by Berkoqitz who also owns “Hot Let6hers” so if you choose not to buy any official SMRI stuff, don’t buy anthing else in Hot Leathers either.

  8. 8 Josh Aug 13th, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Berkowitz, the guy who fought against the Daytona Bike Week trademark because he could not get it in arguing it’s a common name. But he is in the SMRI group of those owning (temporarily) the Sturgis trademark. Before that he was fighting against any Sturgis trademark until his piece of the pie was offered to him. What does it tell you? Show him the money and he changes direction. This guy is a zigzagging athlete

  9. 9 Conejos (Rabbit) Aug 13th, 2012 at 11:13 am

    can you say GREED ? I doubt if the little ole church ladies who serve a real good breakfast for a very reasonable price are behind this one.

  10. 10 Blackmax Aug 13th, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Sturgis is not just a place
    It’s a state of mind for every biker (however you want to define that, LOL)
    Like Mecca for the Muslims, it calls to thousands people every year & will continue to do so….
    Overpriced, yes, price gouging, yes, but never overrated for sheer riding enjoyment
    No one should get a trademark.
    The place is just a place, but the memories, the roads and the ideal belong to us all ………

  11. 11 jamesskaar Aug 14th, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    my take, which, as outside observer, is that the original organisers may have some right to holding a rally with the name and any rally related merch is their domain. however, a generic ‘rally in sturgis’ could hardly be copyrighted. simple test, if they stopped organising the rally -there-, would it suddenly not happen ever again? would it be possible/sensible to hold the rally elsewhere, and still call it the sturgis rally? if not, then it’s a rally related to a specific place, so can’t be trademarked, the sturgis rally could be, and if the original organisers were pushed out, then -they- own the trademark, and it was stolen.

  12. 12 viz Aug 15th, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Sorry, you can’t trademark a city. Hope you guys burn. It’s like Lou Malnatis trademarking Chicago Style Pizza. aint gonna happen.

    Same aspect with Monster Cable. You cant sue everyone just because Monster is on the label.

  13. 13 Biker Week Aug 21st, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    This issue is so rampant in the Rally community. A Rally that has roots in a City and uses the Name of the City itself, how can someone claim ownership of it.

    Three common names: Sturgis, Motorcycle, and Rally.

    Just like in the Technology field you have patent troll and in the Rally arena you have Trademark Trolls.

    I own a site dedicated to listing all Large Bike Rallies in the United States call Biker Week here, and I’m wonder how long it will be before I’m confront by one of these Trademark holders and ask to purchase rights to use a Rally name.

    No one can Call the ownership to Sturgis Rally, Daytona Bike Week, Myrtle Beach Bike Week, or any Rally that used the name of the city it’s in.

    And thanks for the Great Sturgis Rally Coverage!!

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Cyril Huze