SAN DIEGO (CN) — A large, plastic blue and lime green wall clock shaped like a wristwatch featuring 1990s-era graphics was held up in court Tuesday for jurors to look at.
In the center of the “wall watch clock” were the words “Time to party with the stone” in orange and yellow gradient lettering.
The promotional merchandise, made to generate interest in MillerCoors’ Keystone Light lager, was copyrighted 1994.
That’s two years prior to the founding of San Diego-based craft brewer Stone Brewing who brought a trademark lawsuit against MillerCoors in 2018 based on the claim the beer conglomerate – now known as Molson Coors – violated the independent brewer’s trademark for “stone” in connection with the sale of alcoholic beverages.
Archival evidence shown in court Tuesday confirmed MillerCoors referred to “stone” in advertising for Keystone Light just a couple years after the economy beer was introduced to American drinkers in 1989.
Cans of beer — some still full and unopened — and dozens of marketing and advertising proofs shown in court Tuesday bolstered MillerCoors contention it didn’t embark on a rebranding campaign of Keystone Light in 2017 to steal away customers and sales from Stone Brewing, but, like the craft brewer, had used the term “stone” to build up interest in its brand.
“The Keystone family of brands has consistently used the term ‘30 stones’ since 1995 to current, there is other evidence and material from the archive that consistently uses the term ‘stones,’” MillerCoors archivist Heidi Harris said from the stand in U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez’s courtroom.
Harris offered expert testimony as the person tasked with maintaining an archive of advertising, packaging and promotional materials filling 25 file cabinets at MillerCoors’ headquarters.
She said she reviewed corporate paperwork, press releases, company newsletters including “Coors Courier,” physical beer bottles and packaging before testifying in the trademark trial — which is now in its third week.
Some of MillerCoors’ early advertising of Keystone Light did refer to “stone” or “stones," including a “Stix and Stones” advertising campaign to “Save big on pretzels with a 12 or 24-pack” with the purchase of pretzel sticks and Keystone Light beer.
Harris dated the campaign between 1991 and 1994.
But MillerCoors didn’t begin using the word “stone” consistently on its beer packaging until its 30-pack of Keystone Light was introduced in 1995, Harris said.
“This is an introduction pack, so they want to make it big and different compared to the other packaging that’s on the market,” Harris said of the 1995 packaging which featured a gold sunburst with the words “Six Extra Inside” in large font.
Previously, Keystone Light was sold in six, 12 and 24-packs.
On every 30-pack of Keystone Light sold since 1995, the cardboard carton notes there are “30 Stones” — cans of beer — sold in the package.
While the “stones” reference wasn’t included on all packaging or cans of Keystone Light sold prior to 1995, it was used in promotional merchandise including t-shirts, foam drink coolers and frisbees.
T-shirts sold during MillerCoors’ sponsorship of NASCAR driver Wally Dallenbach Jr. in the early 90s featured the red race car he drove with the word “stone,” referring to Keystone Light.
A NASCAR poster of Dallenbach from 1992 related to MillerCoors’ sponsorship contained the phrase “Roll with the ‘Stone” scrawled across an image of his car, according to exhibits shown in court.
Brochures and sales material from when Keystone Ice was introduced in 1994 also contained references to “stone.”
Point of sale marketing — advertising materials used to promote products in store displays — said “New from the ‘Stone” when Keystone Light began to surface on store shelves.
A sweepstakes contest on Keystone Ice packaging also advertised: “Cool cash comes easy with this hot new ice brew from the ‘Stone.”
Harris identified the years the advertising and marketing materials were promoted by MillerCoors during questioning by the company’s attorney Valerie Goo.
During cross-examination by Stone Brewing attorney Jeffrey Theodore, Harris acknowledged the 2017 Keystone Light rebranding used the word “stone” differently than in previous marketing and advertising.
“Do you agree this broken up ‘key’ and ‘stone,’ appearing in three dimensions, appearing on the can, that those presentations are distinguishable from how ‘stone’ had been used?” Theodore asked.
“On the can yes, on the packaging no, because the word ‘key’ precedes ‘stone,’” Harris responded.
Theodore continued: “You’re not aware, prior to 2017, of MillerCoors centering its branding around ‘stone.’”
“No,” Harris answered.
The trial continues Wednesday.Follow @@BiancaDBruno
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.