Landmark Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Trademark Appeal

By George Khoury, Esq. on November 07, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you've never heard of Sturgis before, either you're allergic to two wheeled motor vehicles, or you just haven't known anyone who just won't shut up about it. Sturgis, South Dakota is home of the largest, and longest running, annual motorcycle rally in the country, and probably the world.

Over the decades, merchandising, licensing, and commercialization have slowly crept into the annual rally. But unfortunately for the group purporting to hold all the rights, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that the organizer's Sturgis trademark was invalid.

Marking Territory

While a casual observer might wonder whether the city's name could be trademarked, that wasn't the big issue before the court. At the end of the day, it seemed to boil down to the timing of registration and of the alleged infringement.

The Sturgis rally organizers alleged that a local souvenir shop and maker infringed upon their Sturgis mark when they created and sold souvenir and clothing items bearing the mark and word, in relation to the rally. And while the organizers won at trial, the appellate court was quick to point out that alleged infringing use began before the organizers registered their trademark, and thus, actually invalidated their mark.

The opinion is filled, tangentially, with much history and back-story on the historic rally, and many motorcycle riders and fans might actually enjoy reading about the dispute for that reason.

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