Over the past several years, the Monster Beverage Corporation (formerly Hansen’s Natural) has grown into a juggernaut, accumulating $2.72 billion in revenue and a market cap of $27.3 billion. Unfortunately, like a lot of powerful entities, Monster is also a merciless bully—one that bankrupts and squeezes out small businesses at every turn.
Monster now faces an antitrust lawsuit in California after allegedly influencing brokers not to work with its competition. The Hip Hop Beverage Corp., which produces Pit Bull Energy drinks, says that in 2013, its “master broker” Mid Valley Products cut ties with Hip Hop under pressure from Monster.
According to Hip Hop, its sales on military bases were picking up, and Monster felt threatened. (Energy drinks are extremely popular among military personnel.) When Hip Hop tried to go through another broker, Reese Group, Monster allegedly leaned on them as well. Reese also terminated its contract with Hip Hop.
The suit argues, “Monster’s actions with Mid Valley and Reese Group evidence a pattern of conduct intended to keep competitors out of the military resale market—by not allowing competitors access through the normal supply channels.”
World’s Biggest Bully for Past Two Years
The underhanded tactics alleged by Hip Hop would not be out of character for Monster, which was America’s biggest trademark bully in 2015 (according to Trademarkia) and 2014.
In just the past few months, Monster has gone after at least a dozen small businesses over trademark infringement. Victims include the Monster Leadership Alliance, which produces books on leadership; Ice Monster, which sells flavored ice products to restaurants and cafes; and Baker Mills, which makes Kodiak Cakes bakery and pancake mixes under the slogan “Unleash Your Inner Bear.”
Over the last four years, Monster has sued at least 50 small businesses (see a full list here)—and they don’t appear to be stopping anytime soon.
Monster Sues Brewery, Aquarium Website
Earlier this month, Monster sued Thunder Beast, a Washington, D.C.-based craft soda brewery, seeking to cancel Thunder Beast’s existing “Thunder Beast” trademark.
Monster claims that Thunder Beast’s use of the word “beast” would confuse consumers looking for Monster, whose slogan is “Unleash the Beast.” Thunder Beast is a dark, caffeine-free root beer. Its colors are black, white, and red, and its slogan is “Drink Thunder.”
Thunder Beast owner Stephen Norberg told The Daily Caller News Foundation, “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.”
But Norberg’s representation, Bricolage Law Firm, recently beat Monster in a similar case: last month, the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled that businessman Li-Wei Chih was allowed to register the brand name MonsterFishKeepers.com for use on apparel. (Monster had claimed it owned a family of trademarks using the word “Monster.”)
MonsterFishKeepers.com is a tropical aquarium website.
Thunder Beast Suit Evokes Rock Art
Thunder Beast isn’t the first craft brewer Monster has tried to run out of town. In 2009, Monster sued a small Vermont beer brewer called Rock Art, sending a cease-and-desist letter demanding that they stop selling their “Vermonster” beer. The public rallied around Rock Art, and in 2009 they reached an agreement with Monster allowing them to use the name on beer but not energy drinks. (Rock Art has never produced, sold, or had any other affiliation with energy drinks.)
Rock Art owner Matt Nadeau was happy with the outcome, but also called for trademark reform. “I understand big corporations have built their businesses,” he said, “but the small guy needs to be able to fight a reasonable battle.”
No Stranger to Litigation
For all its bullying of others, Monster Energy has faced several high-profile—and much more serious—lawsuits of its own, most notably stemming from the deaths of two teenagers, Anais Fournier and Alex Morris.
Fourteen-year-old Anais Fournier suffered cardiac arrest and died in 2011 after drinking two 24-ounce Monsters in a 24-hour period. Shortly thereafter, her family filed a wrongful death suit against Monster for failing to warn consumers about its drinks’ potential hazards. In 2013, the family of 19-year-old Alex Morris filed a similar suit.
In May 2013, the city attorney of San Francisco, Dennis Herrera, sued Monster Energy for targeting children in its marketing, calling it “the industry’s worst offender.”
Two years later, Monster reached confidential (and likely sizable) settlements with the Morrises and with the wife of Shane Felts, a 42-year-old Kansas City man who died in 2014 after drinking a can of Monster a day for just two weeks. (The wrongful death suit filed on behalf of Anais Fournier was scheduled to go to trial in August 2015, but there has been no word on its outcome, so this suit too has presumably ended in settlement.)
Earlier this year, Morgan & Morgan joined forces with Maryland attorney Kevin I. Goldberg, who represented the Fournier family and other energy drink victims. We have already filed 13 lawsuits against Monster, and are now investigating claims for more than 100 people who have suffered significant injuries after consuming energy drinks.
We have gone up against one of the most infamous bullies in history, Big Tobacco, winning $90 million in settlements. This makes Morgan & Morgan the perfect firm to stand up to the new bully on the block: Monster.