Stone Brewing has won the first round of its lawsuit against MillerCoors involving the macro brewery’s use of the word “Stone” in Keystone. In February 2018, Stone Brewing sued MillerCoors alleging that they were playing up the use of the word “Stone” in Keystone, intentionally confusing consumers. Stone Brewing owns the trademark for “Stone” in the use of promoting and selling beer and is obliged to enforce that trademark or lose it. At the time the lawsuit was announced, some hailed Stone’s move as craft beer fighting back against the big guys, and others were skeptical that it was just a marketing stunt destined to fail. Well, according to a court ruling issued last Tuesday, March 26th, Stone Brewing has a real case; the court issued a preliminary injunction against MillerCoors and wrote “Stone’s mark to be commercially strong and recognizable,” deserving of “strong protection.”
In a press release, Stone Brewing hails the first courtroom win in a case that is still undecided, a battle won but the war is not over.
More from a press release by Stone Brewing:
Miller Coors is infringing on the brewery’s trademark rights.
What does this positive ruling mean for Stone and craft beer? It means that MillerCoors’ Keystone cans are likely to confuse consumers, infringe on Stone’s trademark, and will likely be forced to undergo a rebrand after the case goes to trial. In short, Stone is that much closer to protecting its good name, reputation and brand integrity.
Here’s some legal jargon to spice it up:
“the Court agrees [with Stone], especially considering the marks incontestability, STONE® is entitled to the strong protection afforded to suggestive marks. Since Stone and Miller both produce a beer which is distributed nationally, a consumer is likely to encounter both within close proximity of the other, making it is reasonable to consider Miller a direct competitor of Stone … Taking all the factors into account, the Court finds that Stone’s trademark infringement claim against Miller is moderately strong.”
While the Court did not order a preliminary injunction, it found that the issue was one for trial, where Stone looks forward to presenting evidence of the significant impact that MillerCoors’ campaign has had on the craft brewery – and the massive sales which Keystone has accumulated since reviving itself using Stone’s trademark.
“This is a very big deal,” stated Greg Koch, Stone Brewing executive chairman & co-founder. “The Court’s order confirms what we knew: that MillerCoors should be ashamed of what they have been doing. All along this has been a clear-cut infringement case, and now we can focus our resources on proving the significant damages done to the good name of Stone Brewing.” He concluded: “To any believer in independent, craft beer, today is a good day. All we ask is that you keep #TrueStonevsKeystone on your mind, and true Stone in your fridge.”
CEO Dominic Engels added: “We are pleased that the Court recognized the validity of Stone’s infringement claims. MillerCoors has made hundreds of millions of dollars from rebranding Keystone in a way that infringes on our trademark. It also has hurt Stone and our brand. We look forward to presenting this evidence to the Court at trial.” He added: “We entered this litigation to obtain permanent protection against future misuse of our brand. The Court’s holding is a win for Stone and we look forward to presenting these issues to a jury in San Diego.”
Stone filed suit against MillerCoors in February 2018 after MillerCoors tried to rebrand its Colorado Rockies-themed “Keystone” beer as “STONE.” The company had no choice but to combat MillerCoors’ aggressive marketing moves, which abandon Keystone’s own heritage by falsely associating with the one true STONE®. Stone announced the bold move by video last year and continues to wave a flag of independence, vowing never to sell out to Big Beer.
Stone Brewing is represented in the lawsuit by Noah Hagey, Jeff Theodore and Toby Rowe of San Francisco litigation boutique BraunHagey & Borden LLP.