Real-Life Copycat Lesson #21: Root Beer Startup and Energy Drink Conflict over Trademark
06 November, 2019
After graduating college, entrepreneur Stephen Norberg launched a craft soda start up, called Thunder Beast, out of a food incubator in Washington state. In 2016, while still hand-crafting and self-bottling drinks for sale in stores across four states and the District of Columbia, energy drink maker Monster Energy Co. petitioned the US Patent and Trademark Office to cancel Norberg’s trademark registration. Monster Energy Co. argued that the “Thunder Beast” brand was too similar to their “unleash the beast” slogan, and would confuse customers. Monster Energy Co. is well-known for aggressively enforcing their trademark rights, having also pursued other small businesses for infringement related to the term “monster”. Norberg sought expert advice from a trademark attorney that had represented other small businesses facing similar trademark challenge with Monster Energy Co., including a group of fish hobbyists, a tea company, and a coffee brand.
In November, 2019, Thunder Beast successfully settled their nearly four year long lawsuit with Monster Energy Co., retaining their trademark. However, victory did not come without considerable cost: Norberg reported spending over $75,000 on legal fees – more than Thunder Beast’s profits from the past three years – to fight for his trademark. He raised funds by taking out loans and selling equipment, effectively delaying investment in his business, in order to defend his brand.