Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Monster, Monster, Monster. (So sue me, already.)

Until I saw a Wall Street Journal article on them the other day, I'd never heard of Monster Cable products.

Well, now I have. And, frankly, I've developed a fairly monstrous disliking for them - to the degree that, if I ever do become some kind of monster audiophile and need mega-serious, millions of colors, cable, I will take a pass on their products.

That's because Monster has been picking on mini-golf company owners Christina and Patrick Vitagliano.

The Vitaglianos, I must note, are not running your every day, cheese-ball mini-golf with 18 flat and boring holes, one dinosaur, one whale, and one tunnel.

They are the founders of Providence-based Monster Mini Golf, which franchises "monster-themed, glow in the dark mini-golf."

Every course incorporates area-specific trademarks and themes. The monsters are unique to each Monster Mini Golf course and all the artwork is original. The only consistent features in each franchise are the "Enter at Your Own Risk" sign that hangs above the cast-iron gated entrance to the "cemetery," and the trademark clown statue that escorts customers out after the last hole.

Black lights and theatrical visual effects set the monster mood. Brightly colors and individually crafted monster images splash the walls. Three - dimensional set designs, with props like life-like possessed trees, fog and lasers fill the course, and a DJ provides music and gives away prizes while people golf. All around for fun for all ages!

Well, I'm a mini-golf aficionado and, while I may be no good at it, I do enjoy playing. (Actually, I'm usually good at the front nine, but when it looks like I might actually win a round, I blow up on the back nine.)

There are a couple of courses I especially like on The Cape - the cornball Pirates' Cove, which I now realize is part of a franchise, and the very nice one with the goldfish pond  off the rotary in Orleans.

The best mini-golf course I ever played was Steamboat Landing in  Naples, Maine. Each hole had a beautiful wooden Maine-themed something-or-other, including a black bear and the Casco Bay ferry. Definitely worth a trip to Naples to check out.

Many years ago, I also had an interesting mini-golf related business experience.

For my company's user group, we decided to have our special event at the DeCordova Museum, which was, at the time we made our reservations, planning a mini-golf course exhibit. Each of the holes was going to designed by a contemporary artist. Sounded like fun, so we signed up.

And, it was fun, if you ignored the fact that several of the artists used their holes to make political statements. Unfortunately, some of our customers were not willing to do so.

There was one hole, in particular, that stood out. It focused on domestic violence. Each time you hit a ball, you heard a woman's moaning voice. In another one, white men got to hit from a point that guaranteed them a hole-in-one, while everybody else had to hit from a place that made them bogey.

Oh, well.

But I digress, which I have been known to do...

Anyway, when the Vitaglianos went to trademark their mini-golf enterprise's name, Monster Cable reared its ugly head:

It filed a federal lawsuit against their company in California and demanded the Rhode Island couple surrender the name and pay at least $80,000 for the right to use it.

The Vitaglianos' had a reasonable reaction to this suit:

"It really seemed absurd," says Ms. Vitagliano.

Monster Cable has been fighting off other monsters since it trademarked its name in 1980. And not just monster cable monsters. Monster monsters.

Over the years, it has gone after purveyors of monster-branded auto transmissions, slot machines, glue, carpet-cleaning machines and an energy drink, as well as a woman who sells "Junk Food Monster" kids' T-shirts that promote good eating habits.

Needless to say, they went after, Disneys Monsters Inc." and - say it ain't so - my beloved Boston Red Sox who were trying to trademark some of their Green Monster products. (The Green Monster is the towering left-field wall at Fenway Park.).

Monster Cable, of course, defends its right to defend its right, but I'm with Ms. Vitagliano on this one. Absurd.

I can understand them going after someone trying to peddle Monster cables.

But Monster Mini-Golf?

One way or another, most of Monster Cable's suits have "have been settled privately under confidential terms."

Occasionally, Monster Cable has retreated. After it sued MonsterVintage LLC, an online used-clothing store based in Oregon, owner Victor Petrucci says he drove a rented truck to Monster Cable's headquarters and around San Francisco for two weeks. It was emblazoned with a giant sign that read in part, "Monster Cable S-." Monster Cable dropped the lawsuit.

Monster Cable has also pretty much retreated when it came to Monster Mini-Golf - if only because the Vitaglianos refused to back down from a bullying monster.

They mounted an online effort to build support, which resulted in Monster Cable's being bombarded by complaints. With all this incoming negativity, Monster:

...decided to drop the lawsuit, withdraw [the] company's opposition to Monster Mini Golf's trademark applications and pay up to $200,000 of their legal expenses.

Maybe not a Godzillan victory, but certainly one of Frankensteinian magnitude.

Congratulations to Monster Mini-Golf.

I have your Danvers, Massachusetts, franchise on my list of courses to play this summer.

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