Rushmore Photo & Gifts sued by Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Inc.

2011-07-08T07:30:00Z 2011-12-11T20:16:25Z Rushmore Photo & Gifts sued by Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Inc.Amanda Friar Meade County Times-Tribune staff Rapid City Journal

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."

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(20) Comments

  1. redtuxedoes
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    redtuxedoes - July 14, 2011 2:08 pm
    Really SMRI? What a joke. You're gonna put good people out of business, the rally will suffer and therefor the state and all of us will suffer. All because you think you own the trademarks on "Sturgis" and "Black Hills" I don't like what I am hearing. Too many dodgy issues are coming to light and I hope you're prepared to prove your case because I bet Rushmore Photo and Gifts will put up a good fight. We all have voices. And I will continue to use mine and share it with family and friends.
  2. salbertsweber
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    salbertsweber - July 12, 2011 8:55 am
    @Picpoi - Actually, SR&R tried to defend itself when SMRi sued them, just as SMRi is doing now. SR&R did not initiate that action. Maybe SMRi should focus on producing a better product that outsells everyone else's, rather than using their lawyers to try to eliminate competition.
    Report Abuse
    PICAPOI - July 11, 2011 9:56 am
    Didn't the SR&R try the same thing? I hope SMRI meets the same fate! I'm tired of a select few people in Sturgis who think their entitled to name rights of something that has never belonged to them.
  4. SallyAnn
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    SallyAnn - July 09, 2011 3:40 pm
    Sturgis, land of the good old boy network!
  5. Sturgis Dude
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    Sturgis Dude - July 09, 2011 11:29 am
    A lot of the names on this board look to be the same people that were involved with the Chamber's costly lawsuit that went on for years and years with Sturgis Bike Week. They also seem to be some of the same people involved in the recent City Manager trial, go figure. The "good Ol' boys" have spoken.
  6. Cummalitive Points
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    Cummalitive Points - July 08, 2011 10:51 pm
    This is a prime example of why the numbers for the Rally have decreased over the recent years. The SMRI wants to monopolize everything so people can be gouged and pay inflated prices from T-shirts, to vendor space rentals, etc. The time has come for the Rally to be a welcoming place instead of come here spend money and leave attitude.
  7. Bluesky
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    Bluesky - July 08, 2011 8:36 pm
    How can a SMRI board member who produces Sturgis T-Shirt, be exempt from the "Sturgis Tax"?
  8. MDK123
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    MDK123 - July 08, 2011 8:19 pm
    I wish the whole town of sturgis would just burn to the ground, that would fix everything.
  9. rcdakota
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    rcdakota - July 08, 2011 4:51 pm
    I have to side with Rushmore Gifts. A towns' name can not be owned. Someone beat me to this, but I want to take over corporate name ownership of Mt Rushmore, Niagra Falls and possibly Yellowstone. Can I strong arm my way to gain control of those names as well. Does the local high school have to change their name? Does this mean that all liability for anything anyone does during the rally is assumed by SRMI?
    Report Abuse
    TTTWTANBTT - July 08, 2011 4:50 pm
    It's high time that the sue happy nitwits get taken down a peg or two. Personally I no longer buy anything related to the S*****s R***y. Let this dinosaur die.
  11. Benevolus
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    Benevolus - July 08, 2011 4:29 pm
    LaurRC said: "SMRI, does pay huge taxes to the Sturgis Chamber of Commerce to license "official designs"

    Can you tell us how much SMRI pays in taxes to the chamber (The chamber does not collect taxes for the city)? How about the ciy? If SMRI was doing so much good in the community, why aren't they telling us what benifit they have provided to the citizens of Sturgis. Was the trademark open to bid?
  12. Joe Citizen
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    Joe Citizen - July 08, 2011 3:40 pm
    LaurRC - Rushmore Photo & Gifts doesn't even use the "officially licensed designs." Instead they offer high quality shirts with a variety of fun designs at reasonable pricing. They too pay taxes and support the local economy and their 70+ years in business should say a great deal about their reputation and business ethics. To state that not buying the official designs is not supporting the community is completely unfair and untrue.
  13. Greymane
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    Greymane - July 08, 2011 1:59 pm
    The board for the Sturgis Rally seems really full of themselves. You would think that they would welcome any reference that promotes their events. In the words of P. T. Barnum... "Say what you want about me, just make sure you spell my name right."
  14. LaurRC
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    LaurRC - July 08, 2011 1:57 pm
    SMRI, does pay huge taxes to the Sturgis Chamber of Commerce to license "official designs", the people in Sturgis do see a lot of money from the "officially licensed designs". Vendors who print the offical designs pay a fee to be able to print those designs. Those are the vendors who are really supporting the local community. The vendors who have the unlicensed iron on junk are the vendors who are ripping off the community. If you are not buying the offically licensed designs you are not supporting the local community...your choice.
  15. Yeowy
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    Yeowy - July 08, 2011 12:48 pm
    I say good luck to RGP! I would rather buy a shirt from a local vendor than one of the poor quality "iron-on" vendors that come to town before travelling before heading to the next spot. Boo to you SMRI! Small businesses help support the rally. As for the percentage of non-rented spaces, maybe it has more to do with the strict permit rules set in place for this year?
  16. BonBon
    Report Abuse
    BonBon - July 08, 2011 12:38 pm
    hmm..if they can trademark a location such as Sturgis or the Black Hills, shouldn't the residents who pay taxes on the property they own there get proceeds? Just sayin...
  17. Joe Citizen
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    Joe Citizen - July 08, 2011 10:58 am
    Yay! Someone is finally taking a stand against corporate bullying and that's exactly what this has been. I have a close friend who owns a gift store in Custer and they've been "visited" numerous times this year by the SMRI bullies with all kinds of threats. I'll be very interested to follow this fun!
  18. Marggorita
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    Marggorita - July 08, 2011 10:53 am
    Taking out a tail-gait rally in some other state trying to play off the name of "Sturgis" is semi-understandable...I guess. However, sticking it to the local community and businesses who aid in supporting the needs of the many travelers in this area during rally week, endure the heavy and sometimes dangerous traffic, and help promote the hospitality of the Black Hills area as a whole is offensive, distasteful, and saddening.
  19. crazynation
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    crazynation - July 08, 2011 10:14 am
    geez sturgis get over yourself.
  20. RedLeg6
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    RedLeg6 - July 08, 2011 9:21 am
    Me thinks this trademarking of Black Hills and Sturgis and lawsuits is a bunch of huuy. I'd rather buy a cheap untrademarked shirt any day.
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