Legal Matter Of Indian vs. Indians Now In Court

By IAN STEWART, Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - What's the difference between a motorcycle and a big league ball club? The answer is now in the hands of a federal judge.

Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians and Gilroy-based Indian Motorcycle Corp. have gone to court to settle a dispute over their trademark logos. The baseball team and the manufacturer use images that are similar in script and appearance -- caricatures that American Indian leaders have criticized as demeaning and racist.

With the team suing the motorcycle maker and the motorcycle maker suing the team, American Indian activists said both should drop their dispute and abandon the logos altogether.

"Both companies are fighting over intellectual and cultural property that they stole from us," said Vernon Bellecourt, a member of the Ojibwe Nation and president of the American Indian Movement's National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media. "Both should discontinue the use of such property."

Cleveland Indians officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Indian Motorcycle Senior Vice President Fran O'Hagan said Major League Baseball started the dispute this spring when it asked a federal judge to bar his company from using its "Indian" logo unless it was directly linked to motorcycles. Beyond motorcycles ranging in price from $17,000 to $20,000, the company markets a line of Indian Motorcycle apparel.

"That's like saying the Indians shouldn't use the name Indians without Cleveland in front of it," O'Hagan said.

The company responded by filing a suit in June asking a federal judge in San Francisco to determine the likelihood that its emblem would be confused with the Cleveland Indians' insignia.

The Indians again last week petitioned for a ruling on the use of the logo by the motorcycle maker. The team also asked for an unspecified amount of money for damages.

O'Hagan said his company countered, asking the court to protect its trademark.

"We just want to get out of this whole thing and get back to our business of selling motorcycles and our merchandise," O'Hagan said. "Our experience has been that our customers have no confusion over our logo. We haven't seen any confusion between baseball and our motorcycles."

The original Indian Motorcycle Co. was founded in 1913, but went bankrupt in 1953 after losing market share to Harley-Davidson. The company -- having retained the trademark rights to its name -- was resurrected in 1998 by a group of Canadian investors and the Gilroy-based California Motorcycle Co.

Big League baseball began in Cleveland in the late 19th century with several failed National League clubs before the American League's Indians settled in.

Despite the current dispute between the motorcycle company and baseball franchise, the two co-existed in the 1940s. A 1948 Indian motorcycle advertisement featured Indians pitcher Bob Feller endorsing an Indian motorcycle.

"No confusion over 'Indians' and 'Indian' in 1948," O'Hagan said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)