Updated August 1, 2022 – As we reported in March, Stone Brewing won its lawsuit against Molson Coors. The verdict awarded Stone Brewing $56 million, which was far short of the $174 million that Stone says it lost in sales because of Molson Coors’ predominant use of the word Stone in the rebranding of Keystone Light.
That was in March. Next, in June, we learned that international beer behemoth Sapporo intended to acquire Stone Brewing for a reported $165 million. Read about that here.
Back to the lawsuit. A few days ago, a judge upheld the $56 million jury verdict, which was good news for Stone Brewing. Today we learned that a federal judge rejected Stone Brewing’s attempt to recover hundreds of millions of dollars from Molson Coors. So they’ll get the $56 million but nothing in addition.
Last Friday the judge issued an opinion denying Stone’s post-trial motions for damages, attorneys’ fees, and disgorgement of profits. (“Disgorgement of profits” is a fancy way of saying repayment of ill-gotten gains.) Stone sought to recover $116 million in profits and receive an award of $168 million in damages from Molson Coors (treble damages, look it up). Additionally, Stone sought to recover attorneys’ fees in the four-year-old lawsuit. U.S. district judge Roger T. Benitez denied Stone’s motions.
This should close the books on the lawsuit. Also, the ink is probably already dry on the deal with Sapporo.
Updated March 25, 2022 – As we reported previously, the trial between Stone Brewing and Molson Coors commenced on March 10th. Today the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, Stone Brewing Company. Reportedly, the verdict is worth $56 million to Stone Brewing, though some issues remain unresolved, according to a report from Reuters.
The case focused on Molson Coors’ use of the word stone in recent ad campaigns for Keystone Light. Stone Brewing asserted that this caused consumer confusion, contributed to diminished sales, and was an infringement of its trademarked use of the word stone.
U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez denied Stone’s requests to stop Molson Coors from continuing to use its stone-focused Keystone Light ads. He also referred to Stone’s case as “moderately strong.”
The jury said that Molson Coors had indeed infringed on Stone Brewing’s trademark, but had not done so purposefully. Molson Coors applied twice to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for rights to “Stone” and the slogan “Hold My Stones.” Both applications were denied because of the trademark held by Stone Brewing. So when the jury said, “had not done so purposefully,” it leaves room for confusion.
If you think of this as a David v. Goliath story, then today’s news is happy news. Exactly how it all shakes out remains to be seen.
Original Post March 10, 2022 -It was just over four years ago that we reported news of Stone Brewing Company filing a lawsuit against MillerCoors, which produces Keystone Light among other brands. (MillerCoors is now Molson Coors.) As of this week, the matter of Stove v. Molson is underway in a U.S. District Court in San Diego. (Pictured above: Stone Brewing founder Greg Koch with a can of Keystone Light.)
At the heart of the matter is Keystone Light and the rebranding of that beer in 2018. San Diego’s Stone Brewing asserts that the new Keystone Light branding, which focuses heavily on the word stone, infringes on a trademark, creates consumer confusion between the two brands, and has negatively impacted Stone Brewing’s sales.
Beyond focusing heavily on the word stone, the Keystone Light branding and marketing used the slogan “Grab a Stone.” Keystone Light is recognized as a budget beer. The problem is, according to the plaintiff, Stone Brewing is not a bargain brand and is not intended to be a budget beer. In fact, creating an association between Stone Brewing and Keystone Light is detrimental to Stone Brewing’s trademarked brand.
To illustrate the consumer confusion, during opening arguments Stone Brewing’s attorney showed the court a video clip from a focus group conducted by the company. In that video, a group of people said that they would buy Keystone Light if a friend asked them to buy Stone IPA.
The plaintiff points to the fact that Molson Coors (then MillerCoors) applied twice to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for rights to “Stone” and the slogan “Hold My Stones.” Both applications were denied because of the trademark held by Stone Brewing. Furthermore, Stone Brewing asserts that the defendant moved forward with its Grab a Stone campaign regardless of the trademark infringement–in their words, “taking by brute force what it could not take legally.”
In opening arguments, Stone Brewing said that it has faced declining sales since the introduction of the rebranded Keystone Light. The plaintiff says that consumer confusion has led to a 20 percent decline in its business, which amounts to $174 million in lost sales. No word on what kind of damages Stone Brewing is seeking.
The defendant claims that Keystone Light is not a competitor with Stone Brewing and the brands are too dissimilar to cause consumer confusion. They also point out that Stone is largely a California brand and Keystone Light is a national brand that doesn’t even sell very well in California. Also, Molson Coors’ attorneys point out that Keystone Light sales have suffered over the past decade, which is what led to the rebranding in the first place.
So where does it go from here? If something interesting happens along the way, we will report it. Otherwise, we will wait for a verdict.
Below, a video released by Stone Brewing in 2018 that announces the lawsuit.