Sturgis Trademark Lawsuit Update
Updated: June 3rd, 2015
Partying and good times abound during Bike Week, but behind the masses of bikes and the beauty of the Black Hills there is crack running right through the middle of Sturgis, South Dakota. Many of the happy visitors might be oblivious to the drama, but you can be sure the residents of Sturgis know about it. After a decade of simmering tensions over trademark issues, the conflict came to boiling point in 2011 when Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Inc. (SMRi) filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against local retailers.
The 2011 case claimed retailers including Wal-Mart and a South Dakota gift shop violated SMRi’s trademark rights to “Sturgis”, “Sturgis Motorcycle Rally”, and other associated terms, and remains tied up in court. In August of 2014 SMRi filed a new suit against Renegade Classics and a Georgia Renegade Classics retail location on similar grounds.
David Hersrud, a Sturgis councilman and spokesman for the SMRi board shed some light on SMRi’s motivations, saying, “SMRi was established to spur economic development in the Black Hills region and to bring money back to the community through charitable contributions derived from sales of official licensed merchandise. When Renegade Classics and its agents use the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally trademarks without having a license, less money will go back to the community.”
SMRi is a non-profit board that was formed in 2010 by town leaders and business owners from Sturgis with roots in conflicts beginning in the early 90s, when the rally had grown big enough to be a considerable commercial boon to the community, but also to require significant financial and logistical management. Future SMRi board members realized that trademarking the rally was the key to protecting the interests of Sturgis residents and businesses, ensuring royalties from the famous event benefit the small town that has hosted millions of bikers for three-quarters of a century.
Community leaders, once at odds over control of the rally but now acting as SMRi, submitted Sturgis’ first successful trademark application to the US Patent Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2011. They’ve been fighting court battles to protect their trademark interests from alleged violations by small gift shops and large companies like Renegade Classics and Wal-Mart ever since.
Though these behind-the-scenes legal matters will have little effect on what goes happens on Main Street this August, it would be nice to know that a cheap imitation of the Sturgis t-shirt you rode 1500 miles to buy isn’t for sale at your local Wal-Mart back home. On one hand the Sturgis trademark lawsuit is about profits from t-shirts, shot glasses, and postcards, but on the other hand it’s about preserving genuineness and originality; about keeping a one-of-a-kind event special. Still, Sturgis isn’t about memorabilia, it’s about incredible riding and good times with friends. No one owns those, so the real Sturgis Bike Week keeps rolling along, oblivious to the backroom battles and preparing for the week when the nation’s bikes converge on the Black Hills for the most epic bike rally of the year.