Tuesday, November 29, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Jury hands Stone Brewing $56 million in trademark war with MillerCoors

An eight-member federal jury agreed San Diego-based craft brewer Stone Brewing's trademark had been infringed by MillerCoors in a Keystone Light rebrand.

SAN DIEGO (CN) — David, again, prevailed over Goliath.

San Diego-based craft brewer Stone Brewing, an early leader during the explosion of craft beer in the early 2000s, won its yearslong trademark battle with beer conglomerate MillerCoors – now known as Molson Coors – on Friday.

An eight-member jury unanimously awarded Stone Brewing $56 million in damages following a three-week trademark infringement trial over MillerCoors’ use of the craft brewer’s “stone” trademark to advertise and market the rebranded Keystone Light economy beer in 2017.

Stone Brewing had asked jurors for a $216 million award for past and future losses and to cover the costs of a corrective advertising campaign to do damage control to the consumer confusion caused by having two beers on store shelves with the name “stone.”

Shortly after the verdict, Stone Brewing tweeted out a single letter: "W."

"MolsonCoors threatened our heritage, but we stood up to that threat," said Stone Brewing co-founder Greg Koch in a written statement. "They will put the 'Key' back in 'Keystone' ending their hostile 4-year co-op of the Stone name. Cheers to our legions of fans, friends and supporters who believe in the good that craft beer brings."

Jurors were asked to determine whether there was trademark infringement caused by MillerCoors marketing and advertising of Keystone Light — a lager which had been hemorrhaging sales between 2010 and 2015 and underwent a makeover in 2017 to stop the bleed of profits.

Molson Coors CEO Gavin Hattersley testified during several days of the trial that the rebrand of the economy beer was aimed at recapturing sales from its competitors including Anheuser-Busch, not to steal Stone Brewing’s customers. He said the company successfully recaptured some of those lost customers when it introduced a 15-pack of Keystone Light several months before the beer’s packaging was rebranded.

But jurors found MillerCoors did in fact infringe Stone Brewing’s trademark through its “Own the Stone” advertising campaign and the repackaging of Keystone Light beer in bright blue cans which featured the word “stone” in large, modern, slanted script, separate from the word “key” which was in smaller script.

In a written statement to Courthouse News, MillerCoors spokesman Marty Maloney called the verdict "a fraction of what they were demanding."

"It’s been clear all along that there is no credible confusion between Keystone Light and Stone Scorpion Bowl IPA, Arrogant Bastard Ale or any of Stone Brewing’s other products," Maloney said. "There are still several defenses that will be resolved by the Court and we are evaluating our options for appeal."

Stone Brewing filed suit in 2018, with co-founder and executive chairman Greg Koch announcing via video they were taking on “big beer.”

But the maker of “Arrogant Bastard Ale” displayed humility in U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez’s courtroom when, during his testimony, he acknowledged the sales losses caused by MillerCoors’ use of “stone” was a “horror” for his company.

Co-founder Steve Wagner also testified that absent a verdict and damages award in their favor, the duo would likely lose the company.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Loading
Loading...