You may recall the battle that started back in 2012, when the owner of an aquarium forum called MonsterFishKeepers was sent a cease and desist letter by Monster Energy drink over alleged trademark infringement? Well after nearly four years of litigation, MonsterFishKeepers was handed a decisive victory.
The $28 billion energy drink conglomerate wields one of the most blatant trademark bullying strategies in big business. Most often it’s the little guys, like MonsterFishKeepers, who get bulldozed over and have little choice but to cower to the strong-arm tactics and fold.
The drama for MosterFishKeepers began in 2012 when the site’s owner and big fish enthusiast Li Chih filed for a trademark so he could sell logo T-shirts to other hobbyists to help with the costs of running a popular website. Soon after, Chih received the notice. Despite having started his site well before Monster energy drink was on the scene, Chih had two choices — 1.) fight it and probably lose while spending a lot of money he didn’t have or 2.) cave to the lawyers.
After consulting an attorney who quoted him a fee of around $150,000 with no guaranty they’d win, Chih was left scratching his head contemplating his next move.
“It was like a dent on me, a dent on my motivation,” Chih said to the Washington Post. “It was kind of like, why do they want to go after us? We’re just a bunch of fish-keepers.”
But it was his community of hobbyists at MFK that provided the answer Chih was looking for. A member of the forum who knew about his plight, told Chih to reach out to a pro bono legal clinic run by the Suffolk University Law School in downtown Boston.
This fledgling intellectual-property law clinic, which worked like a small law firm, takes cases like Chih’s that its student attorneys could then research and debate. One experienced attorney would lead, supervise and vouch for the cases, assisted by eight third-year Suffolk law students working 15 hours a week.
After years of hard work and dedication by these students, Chih was handed his victory on Feb. 1 when the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board made their decision public. Although the board would not register Chih’s logo because of MFK’s ‘M’ with devil horns looked similar to Monster’s ‘M’ with claw marks, the big win came when it ruled in favor of MFK and preventing Monster from opposing the MonsterFishKeepers name itself.
As they rules, the mark “engenders such a different commercial impression from opposer’s mark that confusion is not likely,” the board wrote. “In contrast and as the evidence bears out, because MONSTER precedes FISH and KEEPERS in Applicant’s mark, the entire mark will be understood as referencing an extremely large fish that is being kept.”
We are extremely excited to learn of this key victory by Chih and another member of the fish keeping forum community. Read more about this in this great Washington Post article.