Energy drink company Monster Energy is suing a Washington, D.C.-based craft soda brewery over trademark infringement in a case the defendant says exposes the corporation as a bully.
Thunder Beast, a root beer brewery owned and operated by D.C. resident Stephen Norberg, is in a legal battle with Monster Energy over claims the craft brewery’s trademark encroaches on Monster’s ownership of the word “beast.” Monster Energy, known for the slogan “Unleash the Beast,” alleges Norberg’s brand is too similar and might confuse shoppers looking for a Monster product.
“Monster Energy Co. is notorious for harassing small businesses with aggressive legal action that is nearly impossible to fight against because it is so expensive and time consuming,” Norberg told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The actions of bullies are frequently mean and unnecessary, which is what I consider the practice of attacking significantly more small businesses than anyone else over alleged trademark infringement.”
The massive energy drink company is a regular aggressor in trademark suits, going after 50 businesses in similar cases since 2012, according to Norberg’s lawyer Eve Brown. A Montana-based energy drink producer even preemptively sought a declaratory judgement that their Victory Energy LLC did not infringe on Monster Energy trademarks in 2014, after receiving a cease and desist letter from Monster. Victory Energy also referred to the national company as a “trademark bully” in legal documents, reports Law 360.
Norberg’s Thunder Beast brand is not even in the energy drink business. The craft soda he brews out of a small location tucked between a dry cleaner and take-out food restaurant contains no caffeine or other popular energy ingredients. Norberg, a Harvard graduate, said he simply brews homemade root beer, the product of a childhood love affair with the beverage.
Thunder Beast, which Norberg operates by brewing, filling and personally distributing bottles to area restaurants and stores, does not have the resources to defend itself from a corporate behemoth like Monster, Norberg told TheDCNF. He sees Monster’s lawsuit as a stretch that attempts to link his trademark with theirs in an effort to destroy his company, as Norberg said it has done to countless others.
TheDCNF reached out to the law firm representing Monster Energy, Knobbe Martens Olson & Bear LLP, for comment, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.
“Petitioner [Monster Energy] will be damaged by continued registration of Respondent’s THUNDER BEAST mark in that the THUNDER BEAST mark is confusingly similar to Petitioner’s BEAST Marks,” Monster Energy’s filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office stated. “Potential purchasers, upon seeing the distinctive formative BEAST in Respondent’s THUNDER BEAST mark, are likely to mistakenly believe that such a term and the beverages offered thereunder originated with or are connected or associated with, or sponsored, licensed or approved by Petitioner [Monster Energy].”
Norberg is fighting back with a public relations push he and his lawyer hope will bring attention to Monster Energy’s actions. Norberg contracted Brown, who’s law firm Bricolage Law, advocates for small businesses in trademark disputes that would otherwise not be able to afford defense. Brown explains that unlike in civil court, where aggressive legal actions can be sanctioned, no such defense exists in trademark proceedings — small businesses are often left destroyed unless they have potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in defense funds.
“The bottom line here is that Monster Energy Company has a long history of trying to block small and resource-strapped ventures from entering the market through what I see as the wrongful use of legal proceedings,” Brown told TheDCNF. “We are hoping that, by enabling more challenged ventures to fight back, the practice of ‘trademark bullying’ that has gone unchecked for so long will become less and less attractive to the bullies, and allow more startups and entrepreneurs to thrive.”
Norberg is hopeful that he can fight the lawsuit and grow the reach of his brand. The alleged infringement on Monster’s “Unleash the Beast” trademark is, in his opinion, a weak argument that will not stand the test of public scrutiny.
“Thunder Beast is a craft beverage obsession,” Norberg told TheDCNF. “We enjoy creating complex and intriguing products to delight consumers who are weary of the generic offerings of huge brands that use cheap and boring ingredients. Thunder Beast is an experience, not just something to drink.”
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