Friday, March 20, 2009

Indian Motorcycle Trademark Dispute

I found this wonderful paper on the internet about Indian Motorcycles. To be more precise, the paper is about a trademark dispute with Indian Motorcycles dead center in the haula-ballooo.

I'm not going to get into the history of Indian Motorcycles, other than to tell you they were the first American motorcycle company. They became a company in 1901, a full two years before Harley Davidson. During World War II, Indian retooled their plants in order to support the war effort. Once the war ended, Indian had a hard time recovering from this action. Retooling is an expensive endeavor, and doing it twice put Indian out of business in 1953.


Between 1953 and 1995, according to this paper I found: there were many attempts to revive the Indian Motorcycle Company. All of them failed, dogged by legal disputes and fraud allegations. By 1995, there were so many lawsuits regarding the Indian name and trademarks, that a Federal Judge ordered a consolidation of the suits into a Federal Receivership. This judge must have been pretty astute, because he realized something no-one had for over 5 years. He noticed there were no Native Americans named in these law suits.

You see, it appears, that as of 1990, a law was put into place to protect Native Americans and their rights as a nation to protect their arts and their image. Specifically, the 1990 Indian Arts and Crafts Act prohibits "offering for sale or selling any product in a manner that falsely suggests that it is an Indian product."

So, when a product is labeled as being Indian, or Indian made…it had darn sure better be. That means, the maker of the product has to be a member of a recognized Indian tribe.

OK, this is where things get confusing for me. I'm no legal genius. In fact, I'm not a genius by any stretch of my imagination. (No illusions of grandeur haunt this writer!) This is where the guy who is trying to re-open the doors of Indian decides to circumvent this issue of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, by seeking an Indian Nation willing to involve it's self in this legal action by investing their monies into the development and manufacture of the new Indian Motorcycle on their native land. So Rick Block, (the receiver of Indian in the law suit) and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, located in Southwest Oregon entered into a business agreement together.


If I read the paper correctly, Cow Creek hires James Parker, a well respected motorcycle designer and Roush Industries, headed by Nascar team owner Jack Roush, of Michigan. Parker designed the overall style, while Roush and his teamed developed the V-Twin engine that would serve as the Indian power plant.





By 1998, the Cow Creek syndicate had a prototype to show the world. They had set a date for November 1998 to proudly unveil their craftsmanship to the world. But, as happens too often in the experience of the Native American community, the unveiling was laid barren by the actions of their own partner, Rick Block. Mr. Block obtained a restraining order, disallowing the tribe to display the prototype or any pictures of it. In order for Block to achieve this action, he claimed the Cows had failed in their contractual obligations by failing to meet a financial deadline. The writer of this paper I'm using for information states this was untrue, and that the Cow Nation had indeed met every deadline with their financial obligation.

In 1999, Rick Block sold his interest in Indian Motorcycle Company to a Canadian apparel company, operating as a Delaware Corporation. The Indian Motorcycle Company was then handed over to an affiliate known as California Motorcycle Company. This company quickly started turning out what was and still is considered to be Harley clones bearing the Indian trademark. Now here is where I get all confused again. The writer of the paper I'm studying seems to be stating that Rick Block sold the Indian Motorcycle Company for much less than what the Cow Indian Nation was willing to pay for the company. So why would he sell out the Indians for a lesser price than what they would be willing to pay for the company? Well, because Block "has now started a competing motorcycle venture, in conjunction with the former president of "Indian" Motorcycle Company of America as he continues to act as receiver for "Indian."

Here is one more little known fact for the history and legal buffs surrounding the Indian Motorcycle. "In 1998, Cow Creek, Rick Block, Sterling Consulting Corp., the receiver; and Steven Rodolakis, the trustee for the bankruptcy estates, entered into a legally binding agreement known as the Trademark Facilitation Agreement." (1)

"The TFA would have provided substantial benefits to the Cow Creek tribe, other tribes, Native American organizations and enterprises. These benefits would have been in the form of royalty payments, preferential licensing rights and production rights. The TFA would have put nearly 50 percent of licensing fees, some $7 million per year, back into Indian Country." (2)

"The TFA was binding on the receiver, Rick Block, Sterling Consulting Corporation, and whoever was the ultimate purchaser of the Indian trademarks, specifically, "Indian" Motorcycle Company of America." (3)

But according to the document I'm using for information, the Indian Company instead of adhering to their commitment with the TFA, have created what they call a Native American public relations department. The Indian Motor Company has named it "Office of Indian Affairs". You remember watching F Troop? They have obviously grabbed the name of the Government office Bureau of Indian Affairs. I mention F Troop because I really feel as though the Indian Company is trying to hood wink the Native Americans with this ploy, and it's insulting…not comical.

Indian Motorcycle Company, through its public relations board, has passed out a couple of thousand of dollars in scholarships and grants to Native Americans. The Cow Creek nation contends that the Native American is being used, and that the IACA and the TFA agreements have been breached and violated.

At the time I am writing this, I have not been able to find if this issue has been resolved by the current owners of Indian Motorcycle Company. I'll keep looking, and I will keep you abreast of my findings. I'm not sure what to make of everything I've just described to you…I would really like to see court documents and have them explained to me by someone I trust…but for now, I will have to relay on what I can find via the internet…

I do hope all that has transpired with the Cow Creek Indians hasn't been on the watch of the current Indian Motorcycle Companies CEO watch. I do admire this company, and I don't want to see its name tarnished by greed.

Oh, by the way, I remember Rick Block from when his American Motorcycle Company merged with American Quantum Cycles and bankrupted them...this guy is a sleaze from the word go...and is no longer associated with the current Indian Motorcycle Company.


Footnotes (1), (2), (3)...see link in headline for information.