No Ordinary Suit by jennyyingdi


									                                                                                                                     The IP interview

                                    No Ordinary Suit
               Attorney Fritz Clapp and Khurram Aziz discuss life as the guardian angel of the
                                       Hells Angels’ trademark rights

The day Cisco saw a group of Oakland Hells             Sonny: There were some bikers we’d             as they arrived, Cisco and his boys beat them
Angels roll into a gas station was the day he          been trying to catch running around            all in the same brutal way and tied them up in
realised what he wanted to be for the rest of          San Rafael in Marin County wearing             the corner of the house.
his life. He wanted to be one of them.                 phony Hells Angels patches… I was                   Taking their fake patches, Cisco
     He didn’t own a bike. He didn’t even know         halfway being a smart-ass with Cisco           unceremoniously burnt them, all except the
how to ride one. But he’d learn if he had to.          when I told him, “Go grab one of those         president’s patch. He took this back to Sonny
     Elliot “Cisco” Valderrama has been a              San Rafael patches and bring it to me”.        Barger.
Hells Angel for over thirty years. Today he is                                                             The Angels have always dealt swiftly with
the president of the Angels’ Oakland chapter,      Cisco and a few of his friends went to the house   fakes, phonies – imposters. That’s one of the
but in the early 1960s the part-Filipino biker     of the fake president of the fake San Rafael       reasons why the patch is so important – it’s a
earned his pay as a bricklayer, running with the   Hells Angels. When the president opened the        mark of authenticity.
Latino street gangs of East LA.                    door, Cisco punched the guy square in his face          In 1992 Marvel Publishing launched a
     Becoming an Angel isn’t easy. But, when       and went on to beat him senseless. When the        new comic book called Hell’s Angel. It was
Cisco approached Sonny Barger, the self-styled     guy’s girl started screaming, he beat her too.     an unaffiliated publication featuring a female
president of the organisation, he was given a      Then Cisco made the guy call the remaining         superhero. But it infringed trademarks the rebel
simple task.                                       members of their fake club to the house, and       motorcycle club had filed since the 1970s.                               March 2011                               Intellectual Property magazine 109
     But there were no midnight beatings                  Sonny: The government started                       in California’s burgeoning computer industry.
delivered by motorcycle thugs this time. The              getting nervous about motorcycle                         He was leading efforts there to run
two parties reached an out-of-cout settlement.            clubs chopping up their bikes. Laws                 software on distributive computing models – a
Marvel agreed to change the name of the                   were passed… As a club it became                    concept today referred to as cloud computing.
comic to Dark Angel and to donate $35,000                 our personal mission, so we rode to                 Although cloud computing has gone on to
to the Hells Angel designee: Ronald McDonald              Sacramento to fight their laws on the               dominate the IT industry, when Fritz pushed
House Charities – for children. That’s all it took        steps of the capitol building. It always            the idea onto management, he was greeted
to settle the case.                                       brought out the news cameras when                   with blank stares. He gave up on the computer
     “Sonny says in his autobiography, back in            the Hells Angels helped lead the battle             industry after that. In 1978 he decided to study
the sixties when they saw somebody wearing                against helmet laws.                                law. He was 32 years old.
their mark, they just beat him up. But when                                                                        “It was enriching to get an advanced
it gets to the point of corporations, you gotta       Fritz was also angry about the helmet laws. He          degree because I’m a learning enthusiast and
have lawyers,” says Fritz Clapp.                      even wrote the word “ANGRY” on a patch sewn             I wanted to learn how things work and by
     Fritz had been working as an attorney for        onto the back of his leather motorcycle jacket.         that time it had become clear to me that an
11 years when he took on the Marvel comic                  Fritz had fantasised about owning a                important part of how the world worked was
book case for the Hells Angels.                       motorcycle since he was a teenager and as               the legal system,” says Fritz.
     “It was clear to me that this case had           soon as he became an independent man, he                     He’d developed an interest with IP law in
already gone beyond a simple cease and                bought one.                                             the hope that he could combine those skills
desist letter. This was one that required a big            He was drawn to the freedom and                    with his software background. But Fritz, who
conspicuous law suit.”                                individuality motorcycles represented. He               describes himself as a maverick in those days,
     Fritz admits that had this been a conventional   admits he’d always had the urge to be the               wouldn’t join a big corporate firm. He opened
commercial case of trademark infringement, he         different guy and that’s the rebel spirit that          a private civil practice and he says much of his
would not have been so aggressive. But this           motorcycles used to represent.                          IP specialty languished.
wasn’t a conventional commercial case.                     But despite this spirit, he was never interested        When he was interviewing for the job
     “They have very strong feelings about            in becoming a member of the Hells Angels.               with the Hells Angels – always sticklers for
having control of the exclusivity of the use of            “It’s not something to be taken lightly. It’s a    formalities – Guinea asked him what he would
their membership marks,” says Fritz. “It’s easy       huge step. It’s like a proposal of marriage – it’s      do if somebody infringed the club’s IP.
to get press when the Hells Angel bring a case,       a sort of death do us apart kind of thing. It’s not          “I would send out a cease and desist
so part of what I was doing with Marvel was           something you can just dabble in,” says Fritz.          letter,” said Fritz.
to educate the public and educate the movers               “Recognising that, I didn’t aspire to be                “What would you do if they didn’t comply?”
and shakers that this famous brand was one            part of any club, let alone the most famous                  “I would sue their ass”. And that was
that had a gatekeeper.”                               club in the entire world…” he pauses. “For              exactly the right response.
     Fritz isn’t the motorcycle club’s first          that matter, I never thought of myself as being              Fritz has never shied away from using
IP counsel. The previous guy, who Fritz               that good of a motorcyclist.”                           the most aggressive means at his disposal to
describes as an “ordinary suit”, had helped                Fritz was running a small private legal            safeguard a client’s interests.
the club register the marks in the 1980s. That        practice when Californian politicians began                  Back when he was running his own firm,
was back when the Angels had established              tabling mandatory helmet laws. He became                Fritz was hired by a Hong Kong film studio to deal
themselves as a global organisation and were          involved with a lobby group called the                  with a group of Vietnamese video shops which
seeing their image voraciously exploited by           Motorcycle Association, which of course was             were selling pirate VHS tapes of Hong Kong films.
non-club entities.                                    connected to the most important motorcycle                   Fritz turned up unannounced with armed
     The “suit” helped get the club trademark         club in California – the Hells Angels.                  Federal Marshalls and confiscated the pirate
protection, but he did little else. By the                 Fritz, on hearing that the Angels were             videos. It’s a tactic he hasn’t yet had cause to
time he was ready to leave for a bigger               looking for a permanent IP counsel, applied             use for the Hells Angels.
corporate firm – the Hells Angels were not            for the job. The man interviewing him was the                “It’s not hard for people to recognise that
a client he wanted to be associated with.             notorious James “Guinea” Colucci.                       I represent a famous brand so these always
So the motorcycle club went out looking for                Guinea, a close friend of Sonny, had               tend to be one-punch fights,” says Fritz. “But
another attorney.                                     recently been arrested and later released on            the press reporting does as much good as the
     Fritz had come to their attention through        charges of dealing in methamphetamines,                 legal litigation because it educates the public
his work as a motorcycle lobbyist. At the             cocaine, illegal weapons and explosives. He             and business community that the whole suite
time, in the early nineties, Californian bikers       was eventually convicted for possessing three           of Hells Angels marks is diligently protected.”
were in outrage over the state legislature’s          ounces of methamphetamine.                                   In the early days the Hells Angels were a
attempts to make the wearing of motorcycle                 “How did I end up here?” Fritz wondered.           loose collective of misfit bikers living and riding
helmets mandatory.                                         Fritz was born in Oklahoma, the “dust              and smoking grass in the valleys and deserts of
     For the rebel biker of Southern California,      bowl” state bordering Texas and the Deep                Southern California. They came together around
the law represented just another attempt to           South. He trained in computers and during the           their love of bikes, a hobby which identified
control his freedom.                                  late seventies he was working as a technician           them as a group. And identity was important.

110 Intellectual Property magazine                                      March 2011                  
     Their modified Harley Davidson’s, handle        Let’s Ride, is subtitled How to Ride the Right Way     epileptic seizures, a condition that has left him
bars cranked to a steep incline with elongated       – for Life, and has been acclaimed by instructors      struggling to maintain his lifestyle.
tailpipes. The smeared grease on their               as an authoritative text on motorcycle safety.              The first seizure was early in 2010. At the
unwashed jeans earning them the “filthy few”              “Sonny is actually a safety advocate,”            time he was waiting for a member of the Hells
tag. And the unmistakable patch worn on the          laughs Fritz.                                          Angel, a close personal friend, who phoned
backs of their leather jackets.                           Fritz is excited by all the projects he could     Fritz in the middle of his seizure. All Fritz could
     The patch, known as the death head, is          do with Sonny. He even has an idea for a               muster was the word “help” before he slumped
a skull with an aviator hat and wings. Only a        cable TV show on motorcycling featuring him.           over the driver’s wheel of his motor home.
full member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle           However, being the tech savvy guy that he is,          When the Angel arrived he called 911 and
Club can wear a death head. The club rules           he concedes that with the impact of video              apparently the paramedics who came to the
are unambiguous. The death head is always            streaming and the internet, cable TV may no            scene were sick taking Fritz off the bus because
the property of the club. Any Hells Angel            longer be a viable option.                             in his disorientation he’d turned on the propane
who gives up his patch without a fight is                 Instead he’s set his sights on a movie project    stove without igniting it. The bus was filling with
automatically voted out of the club.                 based on Sonny’s autobiography. The film is            propane and Fritz was close to being asphyxiated.
     “The patch as a symbol and as a physical        one year from production and will be helmed                 “I’m just fortunate that none of this
possession has an unparalleled status to every       by renowned British filmmaker Tony Scott.              happened while I was riding a motorcycle,”
member,” says Fritz. “The club’s membership               “This is one of the first periods in my life      says Fritz.
goes to very great lengths to recover the            that I don’t own a house, a car or a dog,” says             The seizures have been a difficult readjustment
physical patch when it falls into the hands of law   Fritz. “Right now is an experimental period of         for Fritz. He hasn’t ridden his motorcycle for three
enforcement. We have cases pending now with          living on a production box (my motor home)             months and he’s promised his neurologist that
local charters attempting to recover the patch.”     with just a motorcycle.”                               he’ll stay off his bike until June.
     Fritz is meticulous in enforcing the Hells           “This particular phase of my life started three        Fritz admits that he’s reached a point
Angels IP rights. In 1992 he ensured that an         years ago when we were sitting on the edge of          where he’s beginning to confront his mortality
advertising firm which used the Hells Angels         our seats waiting for Tony Scott to green-light        head on, but mortality doesn’t phase him.
name in a press release for leather jackets sent     the motion picture. We made that deal 10 years              Inspired by his friend Sonny – Fritz has
notices to the recipients that the name was          ago, Fox just paid for the rights and Tony, we’re      taken on a strength training programme in
a trademark belonging to the Hells Angels            hoping, is going to make it his next film.”            an effort to put on muscle mass. As he gets
Motorcycle Club. Their ad didn’t appropriate              “I’d been living on Maui on Hawaii for the        older, losing muscle has been a saddening
the Hells Angel name, mind you – just the            last three years of my mother’s life, until 2008. I    experience, especially as it means his body can
press release.                                       had been living over there and it took a while to      no longer handle the bigger motorcycles.
     Fritz is in his 60s. He has a bright red        adjust to no longer having the Maui property.               “Sonny is a great model on training. He
Mohawk and piercing blue eyes. He lives in           She died during the financial crash, and it was        has a gym in one of his outbuildings and he
a motor home in Southern California in a city        impossible to get a property here – so I decided       works out five times a week.”
called San Bernardino. It’s a place that conjures    to get the motor home thinking wherever the                 Sonny has sixteen-inch biceps and a 30-
up images of easy riders roaming east into           movie gets made, I can be there.”                      inch waist. He can bench-press 248 lbs. To put
the desert, out of the suburban landscape of              Fritz feels passionately that his friend          that into perspective, the average American
SoCal’s Inland Empire metropolitan area.             Sonny’s story be told honestly and through             man weighs 190lbs. Not bad for a 73-year-old.
     Fritz makes this journey in his motor home      Sonny’s own words.                                          Fritz is eager to reclaim his life and riding
regularly, as he travels out of the valleys and           Before the biography, the most famous             a motorcycle is an important part of it. He has
across the Mojave Desert to Phoenix Arizona.         work on the Hells Angels was the sensationalist        no other options, because, like Sonny says: If I
That’s where Sonny Barger lives.                     book written by gonzo journalist Hunter S              ever get too old to ride a motorcycle or enjoy a
     Ever since Fritz joined the Angels, he has      Thompson in the 1970s. The Angels did not like         girl, then send me to prison because they treat
struck up a close professional and personal          what Hunter had to say. They branded him a             the old guys nicer in there.
relationship with Sonny. He’s toured with Sonny      coward and Hunter eventually took a beating for
on his motorcycle in the US and in Europe. Fritz     his words from an Angel called Junkie George.                                                  Author
says that travelling with Sonny is like travelling        “I don’t want Hunter’s take on the club to
with the pope. Wherever they went, thousands         be the final word. It’s important that Sonny not                                 Khurram Aziz is
of bikers would ride with them, paying homage        only tells his own story but that you can count                                  the news editor at
to this icon of the rebel biker movement.            on it as coming from his lips as the best and                                    Intellectual Property
     When Sonny wanted to publish an                                                                                                  Magazine.
                                                     most definitive history of the club. If I’m able to
autobiography, he turned to Fritz for help. Fritz    do those things I can die a happy man. I mean,
acted as the producer. He hired the writers and      I’m not ready to die but I would be happy to
had the book published in 2000. That was just        have achieved those things.”
the start.                                                His words are ominous. Fritz has had close
     Another book, this time a non-fiction guide     brushes with death over the past 12 months.
to motorcycling by Sonny followed. The book,         Last month he was diagnosed with non-                                   March 2011                                 Intellectual Property magazine 111

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