So Has Rock Art Actually Won Anything?

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The beer blogosphere has been filling up in the last twelve hours with news that viral Goliath slayer Rock Art Brewery has indeed bested its potential litigation rival Hansen’s Beverage Company. Details at this point are surprisingly scarce, with Rock Art’s own website only celebrating victory without defining its terms.

America You have saved

Your voice has caused corporate america to rethink its position

We can continue to brew our beer as we have since 2006!!

Yea!!! huge victory for the people!!

POWER belongs to the people

In all the media accounts in the last twelve hours, only this detail seems to have emerged (from

Rock Art lawyers have been in negotiations with Monster lawyers and late Wednesday afternoon the two sides came to an agreement. Rock Art gets to keep ‘The Vermonster’ name as long as it stays out of the energy drink business.

While this was what Rock Art’s president Matt Nadeau ostensibly offered to Hansen’s as a compromise a few weeks back, it can’t be the entire story. While this debate has largely been framed in terms of David vs. Goliath, big mega-corporate thug versus folksy small town brewer, the spark in the tinderbox stemmed not from an out-of-the-blue cease-and-desist letter from Hansen’s but from Rock Art’s application for a federal trademark on the Vermonster name. This point is near uniformly misunderstood in the debate and Hansen’s is just viewed as a bully with a ridiculously acute case of myopia. The difference between every other beer named Monster and Rock Art’s Vermonster is simply that the Nadeau’s sought a federal trademark for a consumable product whose name somewhat closely approximated one trademarked by Hansen’s. In an act of corporate responsibility, Hansen’s and its attorneys were obliged to consider whether to oppose the application. For right or wrong, the company felt it legally and strategically had to oppose the application and quietly hoped that Rock Art would simply back down from the application (while inevitably retaining the Vermonster name). A similar scenario may very well have played out with the Brooklyn Brewery’s Monster Ale, where it made a trademark application, only to later withdraw it. That beer remains on the market with the same name.

As Alan has noted (in his lawyer’s view), Hansen’s has a long history of vigorously defending its Monster trademark (and franchise) and that is understandable from a corporate law perspective. But Hansen’s is also a pragmatic corporation and the tide of public and consumer opinion has clearly turned against it with the viral Rock Art boycott and protest.

The question that remains unanswered is an important one. While Rock Art claims victory here and cites its old propagandist “Power to the People” line, the devil is in the details. Has Rock Art truly defeated Hansen’s in securing an agreement not to oppose its trademark application for Vermonster or has Hansen’s actually won what it simply wanted all along: protection for its core product and trademarks? If Rock Art has agreed to withdraw its trademark application and stay out of the energy drink game, then it’s hard to say what the small brewery has really won beyond a great deal of viral PR and public sympathy (the value of which certainly cannot be understated).

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