I posted an article a little while ago about the power of social networking in a pre-litigation scenario. Beernews.org put out an article about a cease-and-desist letter that Hansen, owner of the MONSTER trademark, sent small-town Rock Art Brewery, concerning its Vermonster beer. There was an immediate backlash on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, which no doubt spurred the quick resolution, described in this news video. In my searching about the story, I came across a number of sites with different interpretations of Hansen’s actions, including how it sent a cease-and-desist order or how it filed a lawsuit. Everyone: Hansen merely sent a letter. It has to do something.
Now, I truly believe that there isn’t much of a likelihood of confusion between Monster and Vermonster. The names aren’t that similar, the products are both drinks but in much different sub-markets, and the fact that Vermonster adopts some state pride in its name and distributes locally probably means Monster wouldn’t have had much of a shot at enforcing its trademark. So in that vein, yes, it is too bad that Vermonster gets a scary and mostly spurious letter from a big law firm representing a bigger corporation with a deep wallet. But, in Monser’s defense, they have to.
Trademark owners have to practice some diligence in maintaining and protecting their trademarks. They have to be on watch for someone who might be infringing. If they don”t protect their marks, and people use them under the owner’s ignorant eye, the mark can lose its value and the owner could lose trademark protection altogether.
So, while I completely understand the fear that must have hit Rock Art Brewery – and I think they are without blame her – don’t jump to hatred just because this is a David and Goliath story. Appreciate that Goliath has to patrol its marks. It is too bad that Monster had the upper hand in that it could fight a protracted legal battler, but also appreciate that David has a powerful tool in social networking and its ability to quickly, cheaply, and effectively spread a PR campaign.