Monster Files Amended Complaint Against VPX [Updated]

This article has been updated from its original version to include response from VPX Sports.

Monster Energy has fired back against Vital Pharmaceuticals (VPX Sports) in a First Amended Complaint that accuses the Bang maker of “flagrant consumer deception and anti-competitive business practices.”

The FAC, filed today in United States District Court Central District of California, is Monster’s response to a lawsuit filed by VPX last week accusing the energy drink maker of trademark infringement, trade dress infringement, and unfair competition over its use of “REIGN,” which Monster announced as the name of its new performance energy drink, positioned as a direct rival to VPX’s Bang. The complaint lists a litany of charges, including unfair competition, false advertising, trade libel, and several violations related to the protection of trade secrets,

In the complaint, which names VPX founder/CEO/chief scientific officer Jack Owoc as a plaintiff, attorneys for Monster decry VPX and Owoc’s actions as “damaging, dangerous and despicable.” These actions, according to plaintiffs’ attorneys, include lying to consumers, cheating government regulators, stealing from competitors, and misappropriation of confidential trade secret information.

“From fraudulent health claims to touting an invalid patent to outright theft, our complaint provides many documented examples of Bang’s false, misleading, anti-competitive, and improper actions,” the company said in a statement emailed to BevNET. “It is time that Bang is finally held accountable for its deception. We look forward to presenting all of the facts and revealing the truth about Bang.”

The complaint covers familiar ground from the two companies’ long history of legal strife: Monster’s lawyers contend that numerous claims made by Owoc regarding product efficacy, health benefits and scientific validation are exaggerated or outright false. It also attempts to link VPX and Owoc to “a larger pattern of rule breaking” that includes lawsuits, FDA violations, censure by the Better Business Bureau, and previous work with the supplement ephedra, which was later banned by the FDA. Attorneys note in the complaint that VPX has created a “myth” around Owoc’s business and science acumen, despite a lack of academic degrees.

However, the complaint also includes new accusations against VPX of attempting to steal trade secrets and employees from Monster. The documents cite an incident in which a Bang product manager offered a Monster employee a job in exchange for stealing proprietary pricing data from the company, and a second incident in which former Monster employees downloaded confidential information from the company before starting new roles at VPX.

“[Defendants] have… systematically interfered with competitors’ — chiefly, Monster’s — sales and contractual rights, by rewarding employees with distributors for stealing valuable in-store shelf space,” reads the filing.

Calling Monster’s shelf space “Bang’s primary target,” plaintiff’s attorneys wrote that “shelf space is often determined by contract between retailers and product vendors. Those contracts are extremely valuable, impact consumer behavior, and typically take years to earn. By short-circuiting this normal competitive process, VPX is not only stealing a contractual right from Monster, it is also effectively stealing sales and goodwill.”

“The most unfortunate part of Bang’s wide-ranging illegal scheme is that it appears to have worked,” the complaint reads. “VPX’s refusal to play by the rules has artificially boosted its sales at the expense of competitors and consumers alike. This suit will put an end to these practices, and protect Monster, its consumers, and the public.”

In an email sent to BevNET on Wednesday, Marc Kesten, general counsel and ‘change implementation strategist’ at VPX, called Monster’s FAC “unsworn and unverified” and a “cheap, sensational ‘press release’ dressed up as a complaint.

“It is evident that Monster is desperate to divert attention from VPX’s legitimate lawsuit against Monster’s knockoff Reign energy drink, which not only infringes VPX’s Bang energy drink’s distinctive trade dress, but also VPX’s rights to the registered trademark REIGN (U.S. Reg. No. 5,107,809), which was registered and used years before Monster and its spinoff company, Reign Beverage, decided to usurp it,” Kesten wrote.