Monster Cable’s Monstrous Abuse of Trademark Law

Patents, Trademarks, and other forms of intellectual property play an important role in the world of commerce. Like legal protections on real, physical property, protections on intellectual property reward hard work and promote innovation. But they are also subject to abuse.

From The Wall Street Journal: The Scariest Monster of All Sues for Trademark Infringement

When Christina and Patrick Vitagliano dreamed up their Monster Mini Golf franchises — 18-hole, indoor putting greens straddled by glow-in-the-dark statues of ghouls and gargoyles — they never imagined that a California maker of high-end audio cables would object.

But Monster Cable Products Inc., which holds more than 70 trademarks on the word monster, challenged the Vitaglianos’ trademark applications. It filed a federal lawsuit against their company in California and demanded the Rhode Island couple surrender the name and pay at least $80,000 for the right to use it.

“It really seemed absurd,” says Ms. Vitagliano.

The legal actions were nothing new for Monster Cable, which was granted its first “Monster” trademark in 1980. Since then, the company has fought more monsters than Godzilla did….

As I understand it, normally trademark protection only protects the use of a particular name in a particular industry. So, for instance, I’m free to set up a company called “MacDonald’s Pool Cleaning Service,” but if I tried to set up “MacDonald’s Hamburgers and French Fries,” the lawyers for McDonalds Corporation would very soon come knocking (minor variations in spelling notwithstanding).

So Monster Cable’s strategy is clear enough: build brand value by seeking a very broad recognition of the word “monster” as belonging to Monster Cable. The WSJ article points out that some very famous brands — Visa, for example — are legally considered “famous marks” and have been granted very broad protection by the courts. So don’t try to open up your own Visa Hotdog Stand. That is the kind of brand protection Monster Cable is trying to achieve. But the company’s methods are, needless to say, highly suspect. Never mind the fact that they’re making a practice of dragging small businesses into court, putting hard-working entrepreneurs at risk and wasting valuable court time. At least as unseemly as that is the sheer gall of the company thinking its name already has the kind of widespread prominence and salience that would give it a plausible claim to being a ‘famous mark.’ I bet most people have never even heard of the company.

It’s hard to see how gaining a reputation for being litigious and self-important constitutes a good way of building brand

Ironically enough, the t-shirt pictured above is an actual Monster Cable T-shirt, for sale on the company’s website. Monster attitude indeed!
Thanks to Michael Parekh for pointing out this story.

1 comment so far

  1. Peter A on

    Here’s what’s even worse: Their cables are the laughing stock of audiophiles. They are all attitude and no substance.Frankly, they suck.

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