Suffolk University Law School students helped secure a victory for a small-business client whose use of the MonsterFishKeepers name was opposed by the Monster Beverage Corp.
The holding company for the Monster energy drink empire maintained that it owns the word “Monster,” but the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board disagreed, dismissing the company’s opposition to the name that businessman Li-Wei Chih uses for his MonsterFishKeepers.com tropical aquarium website. Chih had sought to register the brand name for use on apparel.
Students from Suffolk Law’s Intellectual Property & Entrepreneurship Clinic worked on the case under the direction of former clinic director Eve Brown for more than three years. Brown and IPEC students also won a trademark case against Nautica in October 2015 on behalf of another small business, Nautigirl Brands, LLC. Brown refers to both Monster and Nautica as a "trademark bullies,"
Triumphs spur new legal venture
Their success in these cases has led to the formation of Bricolage Law, a legal services organization comprised of several intellectual property clinic graduates and their former professors: attorney Brown and entrepreneurship consultant Paul Nagy. The new firm will represent small, independent businesses of moderate means in intellectual property and business-law related matters.
“The goal is to fill the gap between clinic-eligible clients who cannot afford any legal fees and the highly profitable large corporations that can afford biglaw,” said Brown.
“There is, unfortunately, a massive population of small-business owners in the middle who don’t qualify for pro bono help but need sophisticated, experienced legal assistance to keep them afloat,” said Brown, who currently directs an Entrepreneurship & Intellectual Property Clinic at Boston University School of Law. “Clinic alumni are uniquely and perfectly situated to offer this help, since they have all been specially trained in providing this type of counsel, have a deep understanding of both law and business, and have proven dedication to and passion in the field.”
Ragini Shah, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Clinical Programs said: “The IP clinic’s success in pursuing these cases demonstrates the power of practical legal experience in preparing students for practice while helping clients who might otherwise be unrepresented. And our alumni’s founding of Bricolage Law as an offshoot of the clinic shows both entrepreneurial spirit and a commitment to serving these clients.”
The Monster case
Monster Energy’s claims that it owns a “family” of trademarks all using the word “Monster” was struck down by the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruling.
“In defeating the world’s #1 trademark bully;” the students are helping MonsterFishKeepers and hundreds of other small businesses faced with Monster Energy’s “overreaching argument that it owns the word ‘Monster,’” said Brown.
“Monster Energy’s claim that they are so famous that they should be able to exclude anyone else from using “monster” was struck down,” she said. “Monster Energy was deemed to be famous only for energy drinks, which will again negatively impact their ability to prevent others from using the word in other categories.”
The board did rule that the MonsterFishKeepers logo, which featured an M with a devil’s horns and tail, was too similar to the beverage company’s logo.
Chih’s MonsterFishKeepers forum featured a Feb 1 post saying: “I have been battling my MonsterFishKeepers trademark with Monster Energy since 2012. As of today I can say I’ve beaten the monster! Monster Energy now has a ruling against its ludicrous and overreaching argument that it owns the word ‘Monster.’ Hope this ruling will help the hundreds of other small businesses being bullied by them.”
The blog post then goes on to thank Brown and Suffolk University.
The Suffolk Law students involved in the case, some of whom have graduated, include:
Carl Alexander Chiulli, ’13
Jerome Daniel Duval, ’13
Laura Lipinski, ’14
Casey Parent, ’14
Maria Jose Rivera, ’15
Emmanuel Gonzalez, ’15
Meaghen Kenney, ’16
“The future holds promising collaborations between the Law School and its alumni in the battle for access to justice for small business,” said Brown.