Hey — take off that Mongols tattoo

As many people know, infamous Chicago crime boss Al Capone was ultimately brought to justice not because of all the bootlegging, murder and fraud he engaged in but because of a tax-evasion charge. Now the U.S. government is trying a similar tactic in its fight against a criminal biker gang called The Mongols: federal prosecutors say they want the courts to award them the rights to the gang’s name, and any imagery associated with it.

That way, federal authorities say, they could outlaw the gang in part by preventing them from using the name and imagery, and by seizing property and assets that carry the name or insignia — including clubhouses, motorcycles and even gang members’ clothing. This would allow any police officer “who sees a Mongol wearing this patch … to stop that gang member and literally take the jacket right off his back,” U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien told Reuters. (I wonder what they would do to this guy, who has the insignia tattooed on the back of his head).

This appears to be the first time that the police or the U.S. Attorney’s office have gone after a bike gang or any other criminal organization based on illegal use of intellectual property. Much like the Hell’s Angels and other popular outfits, the Mongols registered their name and their “patch” or insignia — a ponytailed character resembling Genghis Khan — as a legal trademark so that they could control the use of it.

One intellectual property attorney called the government’s tactic “cute and clever” but also “a bit troubling” since it is effectively an abuse of IP law, a view that others also share. It might also be harder to seize the trademark than the federal prosecutor thinks: according to an article in Portfolio magazine, the gang doesn’t own the rights to the IP any more — the non-profit entity known as Mongol Nation transferred those rights earlier this year to a company called Shotgun Productions.

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