Think patent lawsuits are tough? Try selling a T-shirt with 'Hells Angels' on the front
Intellectual property suits are no sweat compared to negotiations that involve getting stomped
Every once in a while, when the patent lawsuits get too thick and there's too much noisy effort to protect "intellectual property" that's actually just a head start making something everyone knows how to make, computer industry pundits start worrying that all the patent protection will keep companies that are actually innovative from creating anything new.
Take a lesson from the fashion business, which makes new things all the time, but makes most of its money copying "innovation" from other companies whose creative addition was to reproduce old designs that hadn't been revived for a while.
Of course, the fashion industry move fast, burn through a lot of money and make a huge impact contributing very little, but there are other lessons it can teach companies in the computer business as well.
Lessons like: When you go too far trying to protect your intellectual property (even when it's legitimately intellectual and property) you make yourself look so ridiculous you end up losing status from a fight you hoped would make you look good.
Case in point: The Hell's Angels are suing Amazon.com and LA-based fashion house Wildfox Couture over a T-shirt that is blank white, with letters in black reading "My Boyfriend s a Hells Angel" (sic).
The shirts have angel wings on the back that infringe on the Hells Angels skull-and-wings "death head" logo as well as its name.
"We bring these lawsuits from time to time not just to punish, but to educate," Fritz Clapp, attorney for the Hells Angles Corporation, told the Los Angeles Times. "Somebody thought erroneously that Hells Angels is a generic term."
The Angels' reputation for protecting their reputation involves more stomping than suing, but the reality is that the outlaw motorcycle club is incorporated, has trademarked its name and logos and has sued other fashion houses, including Alexander McQueen for selling "knuckle dusters" with the death head logo as well as other merchandise.
The Angels have also sued Saks Fifth Avenue, Zappos, Disney, Marvel Comics and others for infringing on their copyrights, according to the New York Daily News.
It's one thing to sue Disney for taking y our name in vain in the Tim Allen movie Wild Hogs, it's another to stand in front of a judge, wearing your colors and claim you've been injured by a fritzy fashion house that made the ratty-looking shirt part of its nostalgic wacky hippy line of clothing – most of which looks as if it's based on the big-furry-vest, Sonny-and-Cher-variety-hour image of hippy fashion rather than something less nauseating.
Still, nobody exploits the name of the Hells Angels. "Even the club itself does not put 'Hells Angels' on shirts they sell to the general public," according to the Angels' lawyer, Clapp.
Shirts are sold on sites owned by local chapters, often with slogans reading "Support Local 81," which is as close as a non-member is allowed to get to wearing the club's name (though some also have Known Associate stamped on the back).
H is the eighth letter in the alphabet and A is the first. So 81 is a cipher for the initials HA – the closest non-members can get to wearing the name Hells Angels.
The shirts are listed under "Support" on most sites, though the Angels have traditionally made their money in more active lines of work than the rag trade. Import/export and distribution, primarily.
The club's line of merchandise allegedly began as a way to bring in money for a defense and support fund for members whose hard work ended up costing them a little more time away from home than they expected, in places they're not allowed to wear their colors, either.
Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.