Monster Energy, the famed energy drink company partially owned by Coca-Cola, has developed a reputation for aggressively protecting its trademarks, and it seems that not even beloved video games are safe from its all-seeing eye. According to a report published this week in Automaton, a Japanese media outlet, the Monster Beverage Corporation has filed 134 trademark objections in Japan’s Patent Office and over 100 objections before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The report claims that the Monster Beverage Corporation has opposed the trademark registrations of Pokémon X, Pokémon Y, Pokémon Sun, and Pokémon Moon, as well as the Monster Hunter brand, including the video game Monster Hunter Generations. The mobile game, Monster Strike, has also faced opposition from the energy drink company over its full title and abbreviation, “Monst.”
While the idea that someone could mistakenly associate the Monster Hunter and Monster Strike video games with Monster Energy drinks is highly unlikely, the Monster Beverage Corporation has aggressively continued with its objections. In the case of Pokémon, the Monster Beverage Corporation argued that the series’ use of both its full title, Pocket Monsters, and its abbreviation, Pokémon, could cause confusion among consumers.
The Monster Beverage Corporation’s continued trademark battles against various other brands highlight the importance of selecting a distinctive and unique mark when selecting a trademark. In South Africa, trademarks are governed by the Trade Marks Act 194 of 1993 (“The Act”), which governs the protection provided to trademarks, including protection for distinctive marks.
According to the Act, a trademark is “any sign capable of being represented graphically, including a device, name, signature, word, letter, numeral, shape, configuration, pattern, ornamentation, colour or container for goods or any combination of the aforementioned.” When selecting a trademark, one should, therefore, pay careful attention to ensure that it selects a mark that is both distinctive and unique in order to ensure that the mark would not likely be confused with registered or well-known trademarks.
A strong trademark is one that is inherently distinctive. On the other hand, a mark that is either descriptive, in that the mark describes the goods or services being offered, or generic is less likely to be eligible for trademark protection because it lacks distinctiveness.
Selecting a trademark that is not inherently distinctive may result in the brand owner spending vast amounts of money and resources to defend the registrability of the trademark and may result in confusion among consumers, particularly where such a mark is similar to another one in the market.
South African trademark law governs the protection of registered and foreign well-known unregistered trademarks, but the protection offered to a brand owner is dependent on the distinctiveness of the mark and may vary depending on the particular mark in question. The trademark owner can avoid opposition to their mark by selecting a strong and unique mark that is capable of standing up to any potential challenges. In the case of Monster Beverage Corporation, the company’s aggressive stance on trademark protection has led to numerous legal battles, some of which could have been avoided if the company had chosen a more distinctive and unique mark in the first place. It could be argued that Monster’s brand owners have satisfied themselves that the trade-off of the mark’s gained value compared to the legal costs involved in defending it are acceptable – and thus anticipated.
Still, the Monster Beverage Corporation’s trademark battles will serve as a cautionary tale for companies looking to register a trademark and create a brand identity around its trademarks. It is essential to select a distinctive and unique mark that is capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one trader from the goods or services of another – an imperative in ensuring that the brand owner protects their brand identity and avoids costly legal battles.