FBI: outlaw bikers trying their hands at trademark trolling

An FBI Phoenix memo (PDF) published on Public Intelligence documents a trademark indicator added by Vagos Motocrycle Club, an outlaw biker gang, to its jacket patch, to help them detect undercover law-enforcement officers. The gang's leaders apparently believed that the FBI couldn't find a vendor that would reproduce the patch and the circle-R indicator without authorization. I don't believe they're correct on this score.

(U//LES) The Vagos added the ® symbol to the bottom center of the large back patch as shown in photo 1. There are only about 20 of these new patches which are currently being worn by members. It is believed that the new patches will be given out to new members as they are vetted by the Vagos leadership. By doing this, the Vagos believe they will have exclusive rights to the Vagos patch and no one, including undercover officers, would be able to wear the patch without the consent of the International Vagos OMG leadership.

(U//FOUO) Research within the United States Patent and Trademark Office was conducted which indicated the Vagos International Motorcycle Club Corporation California, 780 N. Diamond Bar Blvd., #B12, Diamond Bar California, 91765, filed to make the Vagos name and symbol a registered trademark on July 2, 2010, Serial Number 85076951. Changes and requests by the Vagos Corporation were submitted as recently as May 2, 2011 to the Patent and Trademark Office.

(U//LES) FBI Motorcycle Gang Trademarks Logo to Prevent Undercover Infiltration (via Wired)


      1. Whatever it means, they should spend less time copyright trolling and more time redesigning that awful patch…

        Looks like a stumpy demon on a unicycle…

  1. They are not the first to try this approach. The hacker mag Phrack tried to make itself only available to people who promised they were not FBI agents. 

    The problem here is that trademark law probably does not apply since it is not by way of trade. The FBI are not trading as the bike gang. A trademark cannot be used as a substitute for copyright law. 

    Copyright probably does not apply here as the FBI undercover use is probably covered as fair use, it is hard to see them getting a court judgement in their favor.

  2. People in law enforcement must love rumors like this, it just makes their jobs so much easier. It’s like the myth that if a prostitute asks “are you a cop?” a cop has to answer honestly or it’s entrapment… crazy stuff with no basis in reality. 

  3. Maybe they need a patch with a cryptographic sig embedded in it that enables two “real” patches to recognise and confirm each other.

  4. I don’t get it? If I were in a MC (which I’m totally not, I SWEAR!!! ;-) ) , I ‘d think the easier way to tell whether someone is a fed would be to verify with the leadership of his supposed branch if he was actually a legit member or not. 

  5. This is silly. Most well known gangs have trademarks. It’s a simple way for the leadership to establish ownership of the brand and avoid coups.

  6. There’s something fishy about this.  I strongly suspect that someone has either misinterpreted their intent or just simply fabricated it for this memo.  I spend a great deal of time working at biker events & related events like tattoo conventions and have for over a decade.  This is not something that could ever possibly work – by which I mean an agent successfully posing as a member by putting on mimic colors.  Even in the largest clubs everyone still knows each other at least enough to pick out a new guy with a patch.  It would be like walking up to a family reunion and claiming to be someone’s brother, someone who is at the reunion.  Something that does happen is law enforcement dressing up as bikers as cover for other operations but it would be suicide to try it with the the actual MC – perhaps they thought that by using the trademark they could prevent undercover cops from masquerading as Vagos to other organizations they are investigating

  7. MCs are supposedly very proprietary about their symbols; big corporations only wish they could do what bikers do to folks wearing their colors without permission.

    That said, the above story betrays a really stupid conception of how undercovers work, especially for a profession in which knowledge of such tactics would seem useful. Do they really think an undercover just comes in off the street wearing their colors?  More likely, the undercover has joined the gang like any other member, and is given the gang colors like anyone else. It’s sort of the entire point of undercover work, isn’t it?

  8. “So the charges are seven counts of first degree murder.”
    “Oh yeah?  Well the joke’s on you, judge, because we’re suing the police for copyright infringement!”

  9. The FBI has all its own fabricating resources to make whatever they need themselves, specifically to avoid the chance of having their cover blown by going to an outside vendor.

  10. I’m pretty sure this is more likely a reaction to the ATF’s attempt to seize the trademark of the Mongols MC.  It was a bunch of shenanigans in the MC community, and was just recently overturned. 

    Situation Information Reports and the like should not be accepted as valid news.  For examples of how ridiculous and off the mark they can be, you only need to look at similar subject matter from a couple of decades ago and how they stand up to current scrutiny.

  11. FWIW, the Hells Angels (arguably the most famous “outlaw MC) trademarked their patch something like 15-20 years ago and successfully sued a bunch of people over it.
    Guess it’s more legit than beating the crap out of them?

    1.  Beatings are for individuals (and still happen) lawsuits are for corporations attempting to profit using derivative designs – they’d still like to put the boots to them if they could but the cash is an acceptable comprimise.  Most clubs these days have their business side very neatly in order, including copyright & trademark.

  12. I have only the vaguest, indirect knowledge of bike gangs, and I know that there’s no way somebody could just sew one of these on a jacket, walk in and be accepted as legit. If it was that easy, I wouldn’t have a Hell’s Angel’s chapter house around the corner from me.

  13. I don’t doubt that they wish to restrict the reproduction of their patch.
    1%ers are extremely protective of their patches.
    I do doubt that the FBI’s supplied reason is mostly accurate.
    The gang members know their own and will do a nasty number to any impostor wearing patch, enough of any of them get around to other chapters to know if someone doesn’t belong.

    Perhaps though, they are concerned about the ease with which an undercover officer might represent himself to non-gang members while wearing their patch. It would be pretty easy for an undercover asset to pretend to belong to a gang just to stir up trouble between gangs again.

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