It’s over! Sturgis doesn’t own rally or words Sturgis, Sturgis Rally or Sturgis Motorcycle Rally!
Since day 1 the Sturgis Rally has been by bikers, for bikers. Not by the city government, for bikers. The tradition began when local Indian Motorcycle dealer Pappy Hoel invited a few friends to town for a good time. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has been promoted and organized by local small businesses and organizations for 80 years since. That tradition can continue today thanks to recent court rulings that put the power of the rally back into the hands of the people who are most passionate about its existence, bikers.
On November 2, 2018, the appellate court ruled that Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Inc. (SMRI), in fact, did not own or have valid trademark rights to “Sturgis,” “Sturgis Rally & Races” or “Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.”
The summary stated, “SMRI and its witnesses were … not credible as a matter of law when they told the jury that it and its predecessors-in-interest had been the substantially exclusive users of the word.”
It went on to state, “…a trademark owner cannot establish that its mark is valid simply by getting its officials and agents to say that it is.”
The later ruling on February 14, 2019 from Judge Jeffrey Viken in the US District Court, District of South Dakota, Western Division stated:
“The record does not support a finding that SMRI owns, produces, or operates the rally, or does anything else that might allow it to acquire ownership over the rally itself or its intellectual property. The record indicates to the contrary that the rally is a pluralistic endeavor.”
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was born from the Black Hills Motor Classic started by local Indian dealer J.C. (Clarence) “Pappy” Hoel in 1938. Since its inception, private area businesses throwing events such as races, concerts and rides have made, and continue to make, the Sturgis Rally what it is today.
The U.S. District Court issued an order in February 2019 that reaffirmed that:
- Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Inc’s (SMRI) claim to the “Sturgis” mark is invalid
- SMRI’s claim to U.S. Registration Nos. 3,923,284 and 4,440,4061 for “Sturgis” are both invalid and subject to cancellation
- SMRI’s claim to the “Sturgis Rally & Races” mark is invalid
- SMRI’s claim to the “Sturgis Motorcycle Rally” mark is invalid
As Judge Viken stated in his February 14, 2019 ruling, “The terms STURGIS, STURGIS RALLY & RACES, and STURGIS MOTORCYCLE RALLY when used by the defendants, or by anyone else for that matter, do not infringe on SMRI’s marks.”