Who owns "Sturgis"?
According to Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Inc. it owns the word "Sturgis" and has sued Rushmore Photo & Gifts for trademark infringement over its use. According to attorney Aaron Davis, who is representing Rushmore Photo & Gifts, the rally organization, referred to as SMRi, has claimed that it has exclusive rights to use the word "Sturgis". However, according to Davis, under the U.S. trademark law, the geographic location and name of a place cannot be trademarked. Rushmore Photo & Gifts has filed counterclaims.
Rushmore Photo & Gifts in Rapid City is a distributing firm that designs souvenir products for the Sturgis area, as well as Mount Rushmore and areas in five other states. The business distributes T-shirts and other merchandise to vendors who, in return, sell it at the Sturgis motorcycle rally.
"Anyone in the area knows that Sturgis is the name of a town in South Dakota where the longstanding Sturgis motorcycle rally is held," Davis said.
SMRi, a nonprofit group, is the trademark owner of the terms "Sturgis" and "Black Hills' when used in connection with a motorcycle-related event or service. The ownership of the trademark of Sturgis was transferred from the Sturgis Area Chamber of Commerce to SMRi in 2010, during a lawsuit with the Little Sturgis Rally in Sturgis, Ky. In addition, SMRi owns the trademark to Sturgis Bike Week and Take the Ride to Sturgis.
According to the lawsuit filed by SMRi, it is suing Rushmore Photo & Gifts because it used trademarked terms, such as Sturgis, without the permission of SMRi, and it used it in "a manner which is likely to cause confusion, to cause mistake and to deceive consumers and potential consumers." According to the lawsuit, Rushmore Photo & Gifts has also applied to trademark "Officially Licensed Sturgis" with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
"Defendants' acts have caused actual confusion among consumers who purchase and are likely to purchase goods bearing plaintiff's Sturgis marks," the lawsuit reads.
Rushmore Photo & Gifts has filed counterclaims against SMRi to invalidate SMRi's alleged rights to own the term "Sturgis," according to Davis. It is also seeking damages.
"We're going to fight to get this thing taken down," Davis said. "My clients are not only doing this to defend themselves but they are standing up to SMRi to show support to the Sturgis community as a whole."
Some merchants have said that they believe SMRi's control of trademarks connected to the rally has adversely affected their sales.
According to one of the Rushmore Photo & Gifts owners, his business has seen a major decrease in merchandise sales, especially in T-shirts. Brian Niemann, who owns Rushmore Photo & Gifts along with his parents Paul and Carol, said they have seen a decrease in some areas of up to 50 percent.
"There will be a lot of people here, but there will not be a lot of merchandise being sold," Brian Niemann said.
According to David Wilson, owner and broker with Sturgis Real Estate, he has already seen a 30 percent decrease in the number of vendors who have rented space in Sturgis for the August rally.
"There are a tremendous amount of open buildings on Main Street," Wilson said. "By 10:30 or 11 at night, Main Street during the rally could become a ghost town."