Dykes on Bikes trademark approved by US court

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

A San Francisco women’s motorcycle club on Monday gained long-sought legal approval for its trademark of the name “Dykes on Bikes” when the US Supreme Court turned away a challenge from a lawyer who said the term denigrated men.

Without comment, the justices denied review of an appeal by Michael McDermott of Dublin, California, who challenged a decision by the US Patent and Trademark Office to grant the San Francisco Women’s Motorcycle Contingent exclusive rights over the commercial use of Dykes on Bikes, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The motorcycle club applied for a trademark in 2003 after using Dykes on Bikes for three decades as the moniker of the motorised unit that leads San Francisco’s annual Gay Pride Parade.

The club’s attorney, Gregory Gilchrist, told the Chronicle the group had no business plans for the phrase but decided to seek legal protection after an offshoot group, now independent, discussed putting the name on T- shirts for sale.

The trademark office initially rejected the application, saying the name was disparaging to lesbians, but approved it in January 2006 after the club submitted evidence that activists were trying to reclaim the word ‘dykes’ as a term of pride.

Gilchrist said the lawyers pointed out that the office had approved trademarks for other once-derogatory terms, for example, the television show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

McDermott, a self-described men’s rights advocate, objected to the trademark office and the courts, arguing that the term was disparaging – to men – as well as “scandalous and immoral.”

Those categories are grounds for denial of a trademark.

A trademark would put the definition in the hands of a group of “thought police” and contradict the “widespread documented understanding of the term ‘dyke’ as describing hyper-militant radicals hateful toward men,” McDermott wrote in his Supreme Court appeal.

He also said men were illegally excluded from city streets traversed by the annual Dyke March, which precedes the Gay Pride Parade and is also led by bikers.

Without addressing those claims, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which rules on patent and trademark issues, dismissed McDermott’s case in July, saying he could not show that he would be harmed by the designation.

When asked by the newspaper for a comment on the Supreme Court’s decision Monday, McDermott replied with an e-mail quoting Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent from a 2003 ruling overturning state sodomy laws, in which Scalia said the court “has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda.”