Readers here will hear the name “Monster Energy Corporation”, makers of the Monster Energy beverage, and likely immediately roll their collective eyes. Monster Energy has truly been a monster when it comes to trademark bullying over some of the most frivolous claims imaginable. From threats against breweries over location-based puns, to threats against beverage review sites it doesn’t like, and even threats against an actor that featured in a monster movie over a photo he tweeted holding a Monster Energy drink, the company is something of a joke in trademark circles.
Which hasn’t kept the company from continuing its bullying ways, of course. The latest version of its efforts concerns a startup root beer company in DC that dared to use the word “beast” in its name, with Monster Energy asserting that beast is too close to monster and oh my god why is this universe such a silly, silly place?
Thunder Beast, a small DC root beer company, is fighting trademark violation allegations from California-based Monster Energy Corporation. About a year ago, Thunder Beast, which operates out of the TasteLab food incubator in Northeast, received a cease-and-desist letter from Monster over the use of the word “beast” in the company name.
In its letter, Monster argued customers might accidentally buy one of Thunder Beast’s bison-emblazoned beverages when they intended to buy an energy drink. Monster claims Thunder Beast infringes on its brand, which includes trademarked slogans such as “PUMP UP THE BEAST” and “UNLEASH THE ULTRA BEAST,” its petition for cancellation reads.
Whereas many small companies might turn tail, Thunder Beast founder Stephen Norberg did his research and discovered that Monster Energy was a trademark bully of the silliest order. Instead of giving in, he hired a lawyer and decided to fight back. Monster didn’t sue the company for infringement in federal court, but rather went to the US Patent & Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) seeking to get Thunder Beast’s own trademark cancelled. Monster initially insisted it wanted a TTAB trial over all of this, but more recently said that looking at Thunder Beast’s website showed that there was nothing about which to be concerned (seems a bit late to realize that). After stating that, Monster’s lawyers reportedly then offered a settlement. Which doesn’t make any sense, so Norberg’s lawyer declined.
“At the end of this I’d already spent so much time and money and done so much discovery work … that when they finally got around to giving me a settlement offer that was reasonable I decided to reject it,” says Norberg. “I wanted to publicly defend so that when other small businesses get harassed by Monster Energy, they will be able to research this issue and see that they have a history of doing this and that it’s possible and fairly easy for the underdog to stand up to these big corporate bullies and defeat them if you’re in the right.”
Oops. More than that, Norberg is using the company website to put all of this in front of its customers, to take donations for its legal defense fund, and to attempt to turn this whole ordeal into a positive by framing his business as one that “fights monsters.” It’s all actually fairly clever.
Thunder Beast is raising money for legal fees on its website, advertising their struggle with funny graphics and proclaiming, “Forget being the underdog. We’re going full #UnderThunder.”
“I really want to make it the DNA of my company to fight monsters, which is something I’m putting on all my new labels: Fight Monsters,” Norberg says. “I think that’s something that resonates with every human being, and it’s something I want to use my company to inspire people to do.”
It’s the saga of many bullies: threats are made, the bully gets punched in the nose, then proceeds to run away. We’ll see just how far Monster Energy elects to run from Thunder Beast, but if it’s already proposing lenient settlements and even those aren’t being accepted, a hasty retreat might be the best move.
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Author: Timothy Geigner