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Trademark wars: sometimes the little guy does win

"I have beaten the monster!"

So said large-fish enthusiast Li Chih recently, with his euphoria being on clear display and expressed in a most literal sense.

Chih's high spirits owed to what some commentators regard as his stunning litigation victory in a trademark contest. And the literal nature of his remark was underscored by the party he bested in court, namely, energy-drink colossus Monster Beverage.

The odds against Chih prevailing in an intellectual property spat against Monster, a multi-billion-dollar manufacturing arm of Coca-Cola, clearly seemed minimal when he first received notice back in 2012 that he was being sued by Monster.

The drink company gave Chih an explicit warning, to wit: Your trademark for the title MonsterFishKeepers unlawfully infringes our already protected right to the word Monster, and we will take you to court if you don't immediately desist from using it.

Chih was perplexed. He simply liked large game fish and, as the creator of an online forum devoted to that topic, sought protection for his mark in order to sell some merchandise to others with the same interest.

That didn't matter a whit to Monster Beverage, which the above-cited article notes has been "infamously aggressive" about protecting its intellectual property in virtually every circumstance.

What might make Chih's story immediately interesting to many readers is that he secured the help of law school students to make his case.

They did so and, in a true David-versus-Goliath manner, emerged winners when the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board finally issued its decision last month. That tribunal ruled, pursuant to its consideration of the overriding "likelihood of confusion test" applicable in trademark law, that Monster could not enjoin Chih from using the name he had assigned his online forum.

If there is a meaningful point to be made regarding the litigation, it is two-fold, namely this: Large and powerful business entities will always be proactive and aggressive about protecting their trademarks (slogans, images and so forth), but they won't always win. On occasion, even smaller fish will prevail.

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