MillerCoors Responds, Calls Stone Brewing Trademark Suit ‘Meritless’

It took two months, but MillerCoors has finally responded to Stone Brewing’s trademark lawsuit.

In February, the San Diego craft brewery filed a lawsuit against the multinational beer company alleging that its rebranded packaging and advertisements for the Keystone brand infringed upon Stone Brewing’s own “Stone” trademark.

Early this morning, MillerCoors answered back with several counterclaims, asking the court to grant it the “exclusive” right to use the “Stone” mark in conjunction with U.S. beer sales.

In its 82-page retort, MillerCoors, a subsidiary of Molson Coors Brewing Company, called the claims in Stone Brewing’s February lawsuit “misleading and ultimately meritless” as well as a “publicity stunt and a platform to market its beer.”

“Stone Brewing’s complaint makes grandiose allegations, but leaves out most of the facts relevant to this dispute,” the filing alleges.

According to MillerCoors, among the facts omitted from Stone’s lawsuit is that all Keystone cans and packages are labeled “Keystone” and include the “Coors Brewing Company” logo. MillerCoors also noted prior use of the term “’Stone” in ads promoting the Keystone brand dating back to 1992. The company shared images of a 1996 newspaper advertisement using the tag line “Start Your Party with the ’Stone.”

“If anything, it is much more likely that Stone Brewing copied the Stone name from Coors, since Keystone beer was already advertised as such in the market,” the lawsuit said.

In its counterclaims, MillerCoors took several shots at Stone Brewing, asserting that the craft brewery’s growth presents an image problem for its executives.

“This case is not about ‘verbatim copy[ing],’ but Stone Brewing’s struggle with its new identity as a global mega-craft beer manufacturer,” the filing said. “Gone is the small Stone Brewing of old. Today, Stone Brewing is one of the largest breweries in the United States and its beer is sold on five continents.

“What does a company that was built around its opposition to ‘Big Beer’ do when it becomes ‘Big Beer?’” the filing continued. “Stone Brewing’s solution appears to be to file this meritless lawsuit against MillerCoors.”

Stone Brewing co-founder Greg Koch

MillerCoors’ filing claimed that Stone Brewing used “misleading images” of the rebranded Keystone cans and packaging in order to “isolate the ’Stone’ from ‘Keystone.’” The company also claimed that there’s no marketplace confusion between the two brands because the two companies are targeting different consumers and their products are stocked in different areas of grocery and liquor stores.

“Available customer data reveals that it is nearly impossible to find a consumer who purchased both Keystone Light and one of Stone Brewing’s beers in the last year,” the company added.

MillerCoors is asking the court to rule that it did not infringe upon Stone Brewing’s trademark. Additionally, the company is seeking the the right to use the terms “Stone” and “Stones” in Keystone advertisements and also requested the court to grant it “exclusive common law right to use ‘Stone’ in connection with the sale of beer in the United States.”

MillerCoors is also asking the court to rule that the San Diego craft brewery cannot defend its trademark after waiting eight years to file a lawsuit following an initial cease-and-desist letter that was sent to MillerCoors in 2010.

Speaking to Brewbound, Brendan Palfreyman, a partner with the Harris Beach law firm in New York and creator of the website Trademark Your Beer, said if the court grants MillerCoors’ request for exclusive rights to the term “Stone” for beer sales, the company could theoretically challenge Stone Brewing’s use of its name. However, he noted that Stone Brewing would have its own defense to show prior use of the name without challenge from MillerCoors.

“So far as we know, MillerCoors has never objected to their use of that mark,” he said. “Nor did they in 2010 when Stone sent the cease-and-desist to MillerCoors. They didn’t flip it back around and say ‘No, you cease-and-desist.’”

According to Palfreyman, MillerCoors is presenting a so-called “laches” defense in order to prove that Stone knew its mark had been infringed upon but didn’t act upon it within a reasonable amount of time before filing a lawsuit. By failing to do so, he added, MillerCoors is claiming it made investments in the Keystone brand and expanded their use of the terms “Stone” and “Stones.”

Asked for comment, MillerCoors spokesman Marty Maloney wrote via email: “Our desire isn’t to engage in a public back and forth on this frivolous lawsuit but the fact is we have been using ’Stone as a moniker for our brand since before Stone Brewing was in business.”

Barring an extension, Stone Brewing now has 21 days to file a reply with the court.

When Stone Brewing filed the lawsuit in February, co-founder Greg Koch — who has discussed the lawsuit on Twitter, using the hashtags “#TrueStonevsKeystone” and “#PutTheKeyBackInKeystone” — claimed via a press release that MillerCoors was “deliberately creating confusion in the marketplace.”

“MillerCoors is threatening not only our legacy, but the ability for beer drinkers everywhere to make informed purchasing decisions,” he said at the time.

Stone Brewing’s lawsuit asked the court to stop MillerCoors from using the “Stone” mark in connection with the sale and distribution of Keystone beer. The company is also seeking damages and profits from the sale of the rebranded Keystone products.

As of press time, Stone Brewing had not released a statement regarding the ongoing legal battle.

A February 12 tweet stating that there is “no way in hell” Stone Brewing would “back down” from its legal battle with MillerCoors is still pinned to the top of Koch’s Twitter page, however.

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