Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where the Wild Things May Not Be For Long

So, the big buzz in the world of craft brewing right now is the legal entanglement between Hansen's Beverage Company and Rock Art Brewery. Hansen's instructed Rock Art to cease and desist the branding of its "Vermonster" barleywine, stating that it "undoubtedly create a likelihood of confusion and/or dilute the distinctive quality of Hansen's Monster marks. Thus, use of VERMONSTER infringes Hansen's rights, and constitutes unfair competition under state and federal laws." (as stated in the official cease and desist letter.)


Speculation is that Hansens aims to go into the alcoholic beverage business. The owner of Rock Art isn't all too happy and has been amassing support for his cause via social media. He's even placed a video statement on his website.

But to be fair, Hansens has a point in its statement/response to the outrage over their action.
In order to protect Hansen’s valuable Monster Energy® trademarks, Hansen is legally obliged to, and routinely sends, “cease and desist” letters to, and where appropriate, pursues litigation against, entities and persons who use or attempt to register similar trademarks for products that are similar or related to Monster Energy® products. A “cease and desist” letter was sent to Rock Art Brewery on September 4, 2009.

Hansen is a publicly traded company with an obligation to its shareholders to vigorously defend its valuable trademarks and intellectual property rights against dilution, potential infringement or confusion. Opposing the same or similar trademark applications is standard protocol for Hansen Beverage Company, as it is for all other consumer product companies.

In all the outrage and hysteria that's been thrown around the internet the past few days, I think a bit of perspective from Hansen's side is warranted. They have a major point that they have an obligation to protect the financial interests of their shareholders and take action where and when they feel it is appropriate. While I don't believe they have a case regarding infringement, it is reasonable to think that you'd believe me if I told you Hansen was coming out with alcopop energy drinks called "Vermonster". In other words, I don't think that the people who say this lawsuit is ridiculous have an unbiased opinion on the matter.

I wonder if any of the breweries behind other monster-monikered beers (such as Brooklyn's Monster Ale, also a barley wine) have registered for federal trademarks and if the same events transpired. Anyone know?

Inspired by these events, Peter Egelston, the President of Smuttynose Brewing Co, recalled a few of his own trademark/branding experiences on their blog. It's actually a pretty interesting read, and a great reminder of the side of craft brewing that we often forget.

Moylans recently avoided a similar ordeal, facing trademark issues over its Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale, but chose to rename it to "Moylan's Scotch Ale" in most of its distribution area. It's keeping the iconic name in a few states (Oregon, Washington, California) and British Columbia.

Just another sobering reminder that the craft beer business we love so much is, after all, still business.


  1. Did this blog post send a cease and desist to the one that was up earlier?

    On this whole Monster thing, I don't think Hansen intends to sell alcoholic beverages.

    I think the issue is that, Monster Cables has a long history of litigation against companies using the word Monster in marketing, this probably includes Hansen.

    If Hansen does not defend it's Monster trademark against Rock Art, it is possible that counsel for Monster Cable could use that fact against them in litigation.

    Just a guess.

  2. Someone asked me to post about this last week, but my problem with this is that I don't see why it's getting so hyped. This happens all the time to small breweries and they have to fight. I just don't know why this particular case is getting all the attention, but something bothers me about Matt. He doesn't seem all the way genuine and almost is using this as a marketing stunt. He's contacting all the media he can. It just seems a little like the recent Bubble Boy story. I'm not on Monster's side, I just don't seem to be on Rock Art's side either.

  3. Completely agree - that's why I posted what I did. Everyone is all OMG IT'S NOT FAIR, BIG CORPORATIONS ARE KILLING THE SMALL GUYS!! And I wanted to ask people to stop for a minute and think. It's important to remember that this is business, regardless of product. And that other companies have faced this too - I think the Smuttynose entry is great.

    MR WH has a great point that this could be some CYA on Hansen's side regarding Monster Cables. I didn't even think of that but it seems highly likely that is at least playing a part. I also think it's worth reading Hansen's complete press release I linked. Very reasonable.

  4. A very similar situation played out a year or so ago with Monster Cable and a miniature golf course (Monster Mini Golf I think). Rock Art is just following the play book that the mini golf course used. Drum up a bunch of media attention and shame the big company in to leaving you alone. Hansen has the money to pursue trademark lawsuits with anyone that uses anything remotely reminiscent of Monster. I don't blame the Rock Art guy for doing anything he can with the limited resources he has.

  5. Even if Hansen is in the right for pursuing the litigation, they still come off as a big corporate d-bag. I think Rock Art is doing the right thing in getting as much attention as possible right now, because in the long run they will probably end up submitting. If only the rest of the world was as close-knit as most of the craft brewing community. Just look at the Avery/Russian River Collaboration not Litigation story

  6. Hmmm... can you come off as *not* a big corporate d-bag if you're big with a formal legal department, though? Do they look like a d-bag because of the formality of their communication? I guess I'm left wondering how Hansen's could have handled this while maintaining a positive reputation. And as for the collaboration, those are 2 craft brewing companies. Hansen's is not. Now if Rock Art were making juice or smoothies, or if Hansen's were making a barley wine, I could see it...

  7. maybe it's just me, but I thought the formality of the communication still smacked of d-baggery. A formal d-bag is still a d-bag. I do think Hansen could have handled it better by using less litigious methods first instead of going balls out with a "cease and desist." I'm guessing a little research on their part would show it's apples and oranges. However, using the Smuttynose example, maybe Rock Art should rename Vermonster to "Vermon-not-an-energy-drink-ending-in-'ster'"

  8. I just read on the AHA mailing list that Hansen had names both trade and ear-marked for alcoholic beverages that use the word "monster" in some shape or form. Evidently the line was shelved, but maybe Hansen was thinking of blowing the dust off that. Anyways, cheers to Matt for doing everything he could with a crappy situation. He runs a business too, and renaming a product requires redoing the artwork/printing for all the labels, shirts, tap handles, etc. Better to beat the war drum before just caving in.

  9. The cost of changing the name of Vermonster evidently could have been avoided by checking registered trade marks.

    Not sure I want to applaud Matt for being lazy about due diligence.

  10. according to the latest press release on beernews.org, "Hansen's contended that they were obligated to issue the C&D letter or else they would lose in similar cases in the future."

    so there you go.

  11. The point is, Hansen didn't register Vermonster - here's the public record: http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4010:8ed2vk.2.1 - it's in Rock Art's name.

    Hansen just doesn't like how it has "monster" in it, which begs to differ why Brooklyn Brewery is being left alone for their Monster Ale, maybe it's because they're bigger and could toss more $$$ at the problem. Regardless, it'll be interesting to see how it plays out - cheers.

  12. I am curious how you know that Brooklyn Brewery was left alone?

    The vast majority of these disputes would be settled without anyone making a spectacle out of it. So I think the lack of a Brooklyn Brewery spectacle does not constitute evidence that Hansen never sent a cease and desist to them.

  13. I didn't write that well, I'm just going by the fact that the brew is still out there. But going to http://tess2.uspto.gov/ and searching trademarks for "monster ale" (basic search) - 2 come up, both are dead/abandoned. Interesting.

  14. http://www.wcax.com/Global/story.asp?S=11362590

    Rock Art and Hansen settled (like 99.9999 percent of trademark disputes).

    My points are:

    1. Rock Art could have reached this settlement without throwing a hissy.

    2. Brooklyn Brewery might have already reached a similar agreement without throwing a hissy, we'll never know.


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