Stone Brewing Co., the ninth largest independent craft brewery in the United States, has taken aim at MillerCoors LLC and Molson Coors Brewing Company, filing suit in the United States District Court, Southern District of California for trademark infringement, false designation of origin, trademark dilution, unfair competition and declaratory relief.
On Monday afternoon, Greg Koch, co-founder of Stone Brewing Co., released a YouTube video explaining Stone’s intention to sue MillerCoors for infringement of its STONE® trademark and seeking to provide consumers with an explanation for why Stone is taking the extraordinary step of suing one of the largest mass-producing macro breweries. The video goes into detail describing the rights Stone holds in its STONE® trademark as well as how MillerCoors has recently started to use the “STONE” name on its product packaging and marketing in connection with its Keystone beer. Such use, Stone claims is “brewing confusion” in the market.
In its complaint, Stone takes issue with MillerCoors’ rebranding of “Keystone” as “STONE” on its new cans and boxes, as shown below.
Further, Stone notes that MillerCoors’ online branding and advertisement causes market confusion by playing up the “STONE” name, including the word “STONE” in taglines, and placing its product so that “STONE” is the most prominent, if not the only, graphic visible to viewers in social media campaigns.
Finally, Stone notes that there have been instances of actual confusion in the marketplace, stating that a consumer in December 2017, reached out to Stone to inquire about the brewery’s new “STONE LITE” product—a non-existent beer that appears to be a reference to MillerCoors’ new marketing of the Keystone beer.
Stone seeks relief in the form of a preliminary and permanent injunction against MillerCoors, declaratory relief, damages, costs and attorneys’ fees.
The complaint was just filed so there is much to be learned about the case, but one issue to keep top of mind in this trademark infringement matter is whether the STONE mark is famous. Many of the claims, including the dilution claims, are premised on a finding that the STONE mark is famous. Moreover, if the mark is found to be famous, it will receive a broader scope of protection for purposes of trademark infringement. Stone provides some information about its sales and marketing that could be used to support its claim that its mark is famous, but additional information will need to be provided to meet that burden.