Monday, October 19, 2009

One More Monster Takes a Swipe at the Rest of Us

A good friend of mine owns a small green-business in Vermont. Born and raised there, he's as much a true blue-State American dude as they come. He passed along a story about another Vermont business being unduly attacked by a big bad West Coast energy drink corporation. The story just reeks, no matter your political orientation or general choice of beverage.

Energy drinks occupy a market that didn’t really exist even just a decade ago. The visionaries who now profit off those over-caffeinated high-fructose-corn-syrup elixirs probably would have sold Doc Martens-themed cologne or Donna Karan-designed flannel shirts if you flipped them back a generation in a time machine. Or to use an older cliché, energy drinks are the pet rocks of this decade. All style, zero substance.

Admittedly I’ve fallen prey to the advertised advantages of these products, drinking a few Red Bulls for a long drive for example. But in the past, I’ve shown about as much interest in energy drinks as I have in the upcoming "Twilight" movie and soundtrack, or in debating whether Arena Football is poised to have its breakthrough season anytime within the next decade.

Until now, that is. Now energy drinks – or rather one particular energy drink company – have me ready to go to the ramparts.

Monster Energy Drinks describes itself as “A Lifestyle in a Can.” Yeah, well, the same can be said of SPAM or Sterno or Fancy Feast cat food. Who gives a rip, right? That is, until Monster went after a tiny, utterly delicious micro-brewery in Vermont named Rock Art Brewery. When I lived in Vermont a handful of years back, growlers (those adorable jug-band-ready half-gallon containers) of Rock Art’s Ridge Runner were my favorite beer. Rock Art exemplifies my idea of a cool American small business – people who live what they love and work damn hard at making it the best they can.

After ten years in the business, the founder of Rock Art made a celebratory beer – the Vermonster Ale. Then, somehow, California-based Monster Energy Drinks caught wind of it. Last week they had their lawyers threaten to bleed Rock Art dry if they don’t cease and desist making their beer because of a trademark infringement allegation. When Rock Art is bottling, their brewery has the capacity to fill 80 bottles per minute. Last year, Monster Energy Drinks had over a billion dollars in revenue. My research team has shown that exactly ZERO people have ever confused the two companies.

I understand the value of trademark protection. After all, Paris Hilton tried to trademark her catchphrase “that’s hot” a few years back, and we all know how valuable that turned out to be. Typically, I’m not a libertarian crusader. I accept that we live in a litigious country with all sorts of competing agendas, the majority of which I couldn’t care less about. But when I saw the YouTube clip of the Rock Art founder (Matt Nadeau) laying out his situation, I went out to the shed looking for a pitchfork.

In reality, I’m fearful this story will end as most of these stories tend to, with the big bad cheeseball corporation squeezing the hearty little feller off his small, hard-earned platform. But in the world that I want to live in, Monster Cable would catch wind of this and sue the snot out of Monster Energy Drinks. After which, they’d both go out to sea and fight a Godzilla versus Gamera trademark battle that the rest of us can incredulously watch from a distance – hopefully nursing a cold Vermonster after a hard day’s work saving a little piece of the world from itself.

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