Monster Energy defeats rival's trademark claims over low-sugar energy drinks

3 minute read

Monster energy drinks sit on display at a Sainsbury's store in London, Britain, August 30, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
  • Monster's 'Reign' not similar to VPX's 'Bang' drinks
  • VPX drinks not eligible for trade-dress protection
  • Judge said case 'simply wasn't close'

(Reuters) - Monster Energy defeated rival VPX Sports' claims in Florida federal court that Monster ripped off the packaging of VPX's Bang Energy drink to use for its Reign drinks, in a case U.S. District Judge Roy Altman said "simply wasn't close" after a nine-day bench trial.

Altman, sitting in Fort Lauderdale, found on Tuesday that VPX couldn't prove that its Bang cans were entitled to trade dress protection and that Monster's Reign cans weren't likely to confuse consumers regardless.

Monster and its attorneys Steven Nataupsky of Knobbe Martens Olson & Bear and Brian Stack of Stack Fernandez & Harris didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did VPX or its attorney Andrew Schindler of Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

VPX — which makes Bang Energy, a leading brand of no-calorie, sugar-free energy drinks — sued Monster in Fort Lauderdale in 2019, alleging its Reign energy drinks, which were introduced later that year and are also calorie- and sugar-free, copied its trade dress and were likely to cause consumer confusion.

Both drinks, VPX said, use confusingly similar elements including black backgrounds with contrasting brightly colored designs, large stylized logos and similar taglines. It accused Monster of trying to "shamelessly copy" Bang.

Monster denied the claims and argued, among other things, that Bang Energy copied elements of its original 2002 design.

Altman agreed, finding VPX's packaging is "merely a refinement of the original Monster Energy can," and that VPX couldn't show the design was unique or recognized by consumers in a way that would entitle it to trade-dress protection.

VPX also tried to game the court by altering what it said its alleged trade-dress covered, Altman said.

Altman also said VPX "opened the trial by revealing a shocking (and entirely new) theory: that Monster had stolen the precise colors Bang had used in its cans — down to the very last shade — in a craven effort to pass its product off as Bang's."

"By the end, though, VPX's copied-paint theory had been totally debunked — and its case was left in shambles," Altman said, noting the cans look different and that Monster's process for designing Reign "renders implausible" VPX's claim.

"If Monster were attempting to pass Reign off as Bang, it did an exceptionally poor job of it," Altman said.

VPX also failed to show Monster's drink was likely to cause confusion with Bang Energy, Altman said.

"We have virtually no evidence of confusion. VPX's actual confusion witnesses were never actually confused. And VPX's survey — which probably should've been excluded before trial — was probative of absolutely nothing," Altman said.

The case is VPX Sports v. Monster Energy Co, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, No. 0:19-cv-60809.

For VPX: Andrew Schindler of Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani

For Monster: Steven Nataupsky of Knobbe Martens Olson & Bear, Brian Stack of Stack Fernandez & Harris

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com