A 'Monster' lawyer comes knocking at a small brewery

For the owner of a small craft brewery in Vermont, the legal letter on behalf of Monster Energy Drink parent company Hansen Beverages was baffling: Stop using "Vermonster" as the name of one your beers because consumers might confuse it with the energy drink.

"Your client's use...of VERMONSTER in connection with beer will undoubtedly create a likelihood of confusion and/or dilute the distinctive quality of Hansen's MONSTER marks," wrote attorney Diane Reed of the California law firm Knobbe Martens Olson & Bear.

Matt Nadeau, who with his wife and seven employees operate tiny Rock Art Brewery in Morrisville, Vt., couldn't believe what he was reading.

"I was just in disbelief," he said recalling the day he got the letter. "Oh my God, what is this all about?"

At first blush it seemed absurd. How could a sugar-laden, 16-ounce caffeine-infused can of energy drink sold nationwide be confused with a 22-ounce of high alcohol content beer (10%) that you can't buy in a whole lot of places outside of Vermont? Add in that the Monster label is a big, scary, drippy "M" and the Vermonster has the gentle Rock Art logo with a Vermont farm in the background and the issue gets even stranger. And, while we're at it, why is it that Hansen didn't go after the Vermonster at Ben and Jerry's? Couldn't a 20-scoop ice cream sundae with extreme quantities of toppings cause brand dilution to Monster Energy Drink?

Nadeau said it was pretty clear from the outset that Hansen wasn't fooling around. This was serious.

"On all fronts I'm fighting this on principle," Nadeau said. "I just don't think in America this should happen."

Nadeau, who said this battle has been a big distraction from his normal brewery fun, is spending "big bucks" to defend his Vermonster brand -- trademarked in Vermont in 2006 to mark the brewery's 10th anniversary. He said he consulted with several trademark lawyers and then pledged to Hansen to never step into the energy drink market with his brand if they would drop their legal pursuit.

That drew a response, he said, that tipped Monster's hand. Hansen, the attorney told Nadeau, doesn't care about his brand in the energy drink arena -- they want to go into the beer market. Even still, Nadeau said, he doesn't see how Vermonster and its decidedly different look and name poses any threat.

Hansen officials did not return a call seeking comment. Reed, the attorney, said she would not comment.

So, the question now is will the little brewery be able to survive a war of attrition against a big beverage company with much deeper pockets?

"What I'm hoping is that people are going let Hansen know that it's time to let it go," Nadeau said.
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