Let me preface this post by saying I’m a strong advocate of protecting your brand and your trademarks. However, there comes a time when a company can go overboard in its efforts. Enter Monster Cable Products Inc., a California-based audio, video and computer cable manufacturer.
Monster Cable Products Inc. owns 70 trademarks related to its brand, and fights anyone and everyone who even thinks about using the word Monster. Not even Monster.com (who had to pay Monster Cable Product Inc.’s legal fees and include a link on their job search site that says “are you looking for Monster Cable?”) or Disney and Pixar (for the movie title - Monsters, Inc.) were safe from the trademark violation and litigation wrath of Monster Cable Products Inc. Even the Boston Red Sox were targeted by Monster Cable Products Inc. when they tried to use the word monster in naming hot dogs and certain seats in Fenway Park, and the Discovery Channel was called out for naming a television show Monster Garage. Even Energizer was attacked for using the name Monster Powercells for its alkaline batteries.
Other products that had to give up the use of the Monster name at the hands of Monster Cable Products Inc.’s lawyers include an energy drink, carpet cleaning machines, auto transmissions, slot machines, a vintage clothing company, and kids’ T-shirts with the phrase “Junk Food Monster” on them to promote healthy eating in kids. More recently, Christina and Patrick Vitagliano were sued by Monster Cable Products Inc. for $80,000 and immediate cessation of using the name Monster Mini Golf for their new miniature golf business.
According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, Monster Cable Products Inc. has won or successfully settled many of the very long list of lawsuits related to the protection of its trademarks citing “confusion in the marketplace” (the company claims it has fought about 190 battles with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and filed about 30 lawsuits in federal court).
The result for Monster Cable Products Inc.? A lot of bad publicity and a word, Monster, that consumers still don’t connect to the California company but that the founder, Noel Lee, believes has owned the status of “famous mark” for the company akin to Camel cigarettes. Are you buying it?
Following are a few examples of what overactive trademark protection brought to Monster Cable Products Inc. Keep in mind, despite the bad press, company founder Noel Lee, whose formal title, Head Monster, seems appropriate, does not plan to change the companies policy of protecting its trademarks vigilantly.
- A website, monstercablebully.com, was created to support the Vitaglianos and Monster Mini Golf, and the couple earned $4,400 in donations through eBay to help pay for their $200,000+ legal fees by selling slices of “Justice”.
- An online buzz that is highly negative for Monster Cable Products Inc. (for example, check out this article from The Wall Street Journal and this post on Tabberone.com, which includes lots of links to more information about the history of Monster Cable Products Inc’s trademark cases).
- And from that Wall Street Journal article, “After it sued MonsterVintage LLC, an online used-clothing store based in Oregon, owner Victor Petrucci says he drove a rented truck to Monster Cable’s headquarters and around San Francisco for two weeks. It was emblazoned with a giant sign that read in part, “Monster Cable S-.” Monster Cable dropped the lawsuit.”
- Monster Cable Products Inc. received over 200 angry customer complaints related to the Vitaglianos case alone.
Monster Cable Products, Inc. eventually dropped the case against the Vitaglianos and agreed to pay up to $200,000 in their legal fees, but the company still plans to protect the Monster trademark just as it always has.
This is a case of trademark law gone wrong. How much time and money has been spent from all parties to fight these ludicrous trademark battles? Let this be a lesson to all brand managers — you build brand recognition from within. By delivering on your brand promise, consumers will relate your brand name to your business or product regardless of what anyone else in an unrelated business is doing. Look at Apple Inc. and Applebees. These companies both use the word “apple” in their brand names and are capable of coexisting in the world without either company losing money or consumers being confused. Rather than investing money in lawsuits, invest in building your own brand.
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