Budget and Craft Beer Go Head to Head Over Trademark Confusion
As the days warm, you may find yourself cracking open a cold beer on the porch. If a friend asked you, “Is that a ‘Stone or a Stone?” would you know how to answer?
That question is at the heart of a trademark infringement and trademark dilution lawsuit between two brewing companies, Molson Coors (the owner of Keystone Light) and Stone Brewing Co.
Founded in 1996, Stone Brewing Co. is a craft beer company, creating such classics as Stone Delicious IPA. On the other hand, you may have seen Keystone Light as the cheap beer option on many a bar menu.
Stone Brewing Co.’s Position
Stone Brewing Co. believes that their sales have plummeted since Keystone Light rebranded in 2017. During the rebrand, the budget beer company emphasized the word “stone” on its packaging and launched an advertising campaign with the phrase “Grab a Stone.”
This campaign stands out as a particularly damaging piece of evidence. Why? Because Keystone tried to register the word “Stone” and the phrase “Hold My Stones” as trademarks as part of their rebranding, and Stone Brewing threatened to file a Notice of Opposition against the applications due to Stone Brewing Co.’s already existing trademark registrations.
Continuing forward with “Grab a Stone”, then, could be seen as another shade of trademark infringement.
As an additional demonstrative piece, Stone Brewing Co. submitted a consumer survey video. Participants were asked which beer they would buy if a friend asked them to pick up Stone IPA. Some said they would choose Keystone Light.
Is this enough to demonstrate actual consumer confusion, though?
Counterargument from Molson Coors
Molson Coors demerits the claim of consumer confusion. They think that the demographics for Keystone Light and Stone Brewing Co. are so different that consumer confusion is unlikely, so it probably did not cause the dent in Stone Brewing Co.’s sales.
The budget beer company also points out that they were around before 1996, so the “Stone” nickname for Keystone Light was in use well before then.
Instead, Molson Coors paints an ulterior motive for Stone Brewing Co.’s lawsuits: They owe their private equity investors $464 million by 2023.
The counter argument did not work in the current lawsuit since the jury ruled in favor of Stone Brewing Co. and awarded them $56 million in damages.
Will Coors Appeal?
Currently, Molson Coors could appeal the affirmative decision in Stone Brewing Co.’s favor. They are weighing their options.
On the other side of the aisle, craft beer enthusiasts celebrate the artisanal Stone’s win. But we have yet to see if their litigation road is over.