Monster Cable Finds Itself On The Other Side Of A Trademark Case (But Still Losing)

from the monster-trademarks dept

As you’re probably aware, Monster Cable is somewhat famous as a trademark bully — at times going after completely unrelated businesses that use the word “monster” (such as a mini-golf course, an automotive parts shop and the manufacturer of deer salt blocks) despite there being no chance for confusion. So it’s interesting to see what happens when it’s actually being accused of trademark infringement itself. Unlike Monster’s lawsuits, this one is from a company that’s actually in the same space. Dolby is suing Monster for trademark infringement and last week Monster failed in its attempt to win the case via summary judgment, while Dolby partially won its summary judgment arguments. (Updated to show the logos):

Incredibly, Monster, which continually attacks totally unrelated businesses where no moron in a hurry would ever consider there to be any confusion, is now forced to argue here that its own use wouldn’t cause any confusion at all. However, the court isn’t convinced, noting that the marks do, in fact, appear similar (and even Monster’s own “expert” witness said as much):

Here, both marks consist of an icon of a pair of over-the-ear headphones surrounding an abstract geometrical shape. The proportionate size of the headphone icon compared to the center geometric shape is approximately the same for both marks. Both of the center geometric shapes have a similar dark, right-angle side nearest the headphones icon, with mirror-image, inward-facing, semi-circular arcs opposite the right-angle side. Indeed, Monster’s own witnesses concede that the marks have similar elements. The evidence indicates that Monster’s mark sometimes appears in a certain configuration with the Monster name or in certain color combinations, but sometimes does not. In short, a reasonable jury could find, on the record before the Court, that this element favors likelihood of confusion.

And, while Dolby itself doesn’t directly compete, it licenses its mark to those who do:

Headphones bearing the Dolby mark sell in the same price range and to the same market segments. Moreover, the Dolby mark may appear on a variety of different headphone styles, including styles similar to Monster’s, since Dolby licenses its mark to different headphone manufacturers. This adds to the potential for source confusion, whatever the sophistication level of the buyers.

Oh, and there’s even some evidence to suggest that, unlike those Monster accuses of trademark infringement, Monster itself may have purposely copied Dolby’s mark:

Based upon the record before the Court here, a reasonable jury could find that Monster intentionally adopted a mark similar to the Dolby Headphone Mark, thus creating a triable issue. Monster was aware of the Dolby Headphone Mark at the time that it adopted its Monster Headphone Mark. It had, in fact, licensed and used the Dolby Headphone Mark on its own products. The record contains conflicting accounts about the creation of the Monster Headphone Mark. Dolby also offers evidence that Monster previously admitted using a different Dolby mark without permission, as well as evidence that Monster acknowledged the value of including the Dolby Headphone Mark and Dolby technology in marketing headphones to consumers. This and other circumstantial evidence would allow a reasonable jury to find in favor of Dolby on the intent to confuse factor

You would think that, for a company so incredibly (and ridiculously) aggressive in enforcing its own trademark, it would be a bit more careful in designing its own damn logos. Monster may eventually win the case, but initially it doesn’t look to be going that well.

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Companies: dolby, monster cable

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Comments on “Monster Cable Finds Itself On The Other Side Of A Trademark Case (But Still Losing)”

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Lord Binky says:

I wonder what the defense for this is. Consumers need an abstract marking to identify the product is a pair of headphones? The Monster Cable brand name isn’t enough to designate the product as a Monster Cable product? Wouldn’t that mean that without additional markings, they are admitting all the non-competitor companies that had Monster in their name had no way of being confused with Monster Cable?

Ven says:

Re: Re:

It can make sense that Dolby’s license practices are relevant.

Lets assume that Dolby does provide some headphone technology that is an improvement on generic headphone technology. And also that educated consumers recognize that.

Under those assumptions part of the value of licensing Dolby technology is also licensing Dolby trademarks. By placing the mark on a product it identifies the product as containing a distinct technology.

Now if Monster is using a mark that could cause confusion, then they are diluting the value of Dolby’s mark. What happens when you buy a Monster branded and marked product thinking it was a Dolby marked product, then find out you only got an over price low quality headphone?

Would you be more or less likely to buy an authentic Dolby marked product in the future?

The purpose of the Dolby Headphones mark is not to differentiate Dolby products to it’s customers, but to differentiate Dolby’s technology (embedded in its customers’ products) to consumers.

GMacGuffin says:


Monster Cable must have its own TM and brand management dept., which often includes a lawyer or someone who searches marks and scans the USPTO Gazette all day long. And yet they missed this obvious (yea, likely to confuse) similarities with the other mark?

Well, I’ve never heard of this “Dolby” company, so maybe they can make that excuse. (Oh, you mean Dubly? Like in Spinal Tap?)

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