Harley-Davidson tells social media website to stop using 'Harley' in its name

Publish Date: 
Mar 13, 2012

Harley-Davidson is warning the owner of a social media website to stop using its name in the web domain, saying it violates the Motor Co.’s trademarks.

HarleySpace.com website owner James Coulbourne disagrees, and he’s engaged a prominent lawyer to defend his position: self-proclaimed "lawyer from Hell" Fritz Clapp, who represents the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club in intellectual property cases. He has agreed to represent Coulbourne, who isn't a member of the motorcycle club, at no charge. It's a freedom-of-speech issue, according to the Beverly Hills, Calif., attorney.

Harley-Davidson recently sent Coulbourne a letter saying it owns the Harley trademark and has exclusive rights to its use in connection with motorcycles and related goods and services. "One of our goals is to prevent our trademark from becoming generic," company spokeswoman Maripat Blankenheim told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "We enjoy the brand equity we have because we protect it."

The company hasn't sued anyone over a web domain with the word Harley in it, she said, but that's because most people comply with requests to stop.

Clapp filed suit over the sale of T-shirts that read "My boyfriend's a Hells Angel" on the front, with a pair of wings on the back. The club also has sued the Walt Disney Co., Marvel Comics, and the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen to protect its name.

"It shows that I have experience in how far you can go, and can't go, in pursuing the exclusivity of a famous trademark. There are limits," Clapp says, noting that Coulbourne, of Delaware, isn’t selling anything from his website.

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