Stone Brewing has filed a lawsuit against Molson Coors Brewing Company subsidiary MillerCoors, which makes and markets the “Keystone” line of beers, alleging that the multinational company infringed on the San Diego craft brewery’s “Stone” trademark.
According to the complaint, filed today in the U.S. district court of Southern California, Stone Brewing asserts that MillerCoors is purposely trying to “steal the consumer loyalty and awesome reputation of Stone’s craft brews” with its recently rebranded Keystone packages.
Introduced last April, the new Keystone cans and multi-packs were refreshed to more prominently feature the word “Stone” in capitalized letters.
In a press release, Stone Brewing co-founder Greg Koch claimed 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 via the release.
In a statement, MillerCoors spokesman Marty Maloney denied the allegations, calling it a “clever publicity stunt.”
“Since Keystone’s debut in 1989, prior to the founding of Stone Brewing in 1996, our consumers have commonly used ‘Stone’ to refer to the Keystone brand, and we will let the facts speak for themselves in the legal process,” he wrote via email.
Reached by email, Stone Brewing spokeswoman Lizzie Younkin declined to make executives available for an interview, saying only that the company would “focus on brewing great beer” and that it wouldn’t be responding to questions regarding the pending litigation.
“Our actions (and lawyers) will have to do the talking,” she wrote, as Koch, who recently returned to Twitter after a two-year hiatus, simultaneously responded to a flood of tweets about the lawsuit.
“Big Beer is once again playing dirty in their battle against independent beer,” Koch tweeted. “We didn’t start this fight, but no way in hell are we going to back down from it.”
Stone Brewing also released a nearly five-minute-long video of Koch, who began promoting the so-called “scrap” in a series of cryptic tweets last week, making his case.
In the video, Koch explains that “Big Beer” companies such as MillerCoors, faced with dwindling sales of their core domestic lager brands, embarked on a multi-year spree of craft brewery acquisitions in an attempt to offset declines.
“They found people who were willing to sell out,” he says, as the names of acquired breweries such as Lagunitas, Saint Archer, Golden Road and others flashed across the screen.
“They know they can’t buy Stone,” he continued. “They can obfuscate. They can co-opt our brand and our good name. Or at least they can try.”
In its suit, Stone Brewing, which took in $90 million of private equity funding firm VMG Partners in 2016, cited rebranded cans, 30-packs and “deceptive social media campaigns” as evidence of the infringement.
“MillerCoors has instituted a social media blitz on its publicly available sites where it solely refers to Keystone as ‘Stone’ and strategically places its product so that the ‘Stone’ is the most prominent, if not the only graphic visible to viewers,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit calls out various Facebook, Instagram and ESPN.com ads as further proof of the infringement. It also asserts that MillerCoors has “long coveted” its mark, which the craft brewery registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office in 1998. According to Stone Brewing, MillerCoors attempted to register the mark “STONES” with the USPTO in September 2007 but was denied.
In the video, Koch, whose company is claiming that MillerCoors’ use of the word “Stone” is likely to confuse and deceive consumers, also states that the words “Stone” and “Light” would “never” be seen together on a Stone Brewing product.
Stone is asking for the court to stop MillerCoors from using the “Stone” mark in connection with the sale and distribution of the Keystone beer, and is seeking damages and profits from the sale of the rebranded Keystone products.
Off-premise volume sales of Keystone Light were up 12.1 percent during the 52-week period ending January 28, according to retail data provider IRI Worldwide. Volume sales of Stone Brewing products were up more than 20 percent during the same period.
A press release with additional information is included below.
Stone Brewing Sues MillerCoors for Deceptive Use of the STONE® Brand
ESCONDIDO, CA (February 12, 2018) – Today Stone Brewing filed suit to defend its iconic STONE® brand against one of the world’s largest beer conglomerates, MillerCoors. Stone, known for being the antithesis to “Big Beer,” has long waved a flag of bold character, individualism and independence. The suit alleges that MillerCoors is trying to rebrand its Colorado Rockies-themed “Keystone” beer as “STONE.” The craft beer pioneer feels that it has no choice but to combat MillerCoors’ aggressive marketing moves, which abandon Keystone’s own heritage by falsely associating with the one true STONE®.
“Keystone’s rebranding is no accident,” said Dominic Engels, Stone Brewing CEO. “MillerCoors tried to register our name years ago and was rejected. Now its marketing team is making 30-pack boxes stacked high with nothing but the word ‘STONE’ visible. Same for Keystone’s social media, which almost uniformly has dropped the ‘Key.’ We will not stand for this kind of overtly and aggressively deceptive advertising. Frankly, MillerCoor should be ashamed.”
The Complaint alleges federal and state causes of action for unfair competition, trademark infringement and related claims. “For two decades our team and our fans together have given depth and meaning to the Stone brand,” expressed Greg Koch, Stone Brewing executive chairman & co-founder. “Our fans have come to trust us to deliver consistently fresh, high quality beer. They trust that we’ll do so in a way that’s ethical and betters our communities, our planet and the entirety of craft beer. By 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.”
Never one to miss an opportunity to poke fun at Big Beer and its consumers, Koch added with a laugh “We all know Keystone is specifically designed to be as inexpensive, flavorless and watery as possible. We can’t have potential Stone drinkers thinking we make a *shudder* light beer. Or for our fans to think we sold out. MillerCoors needs to stop marketing its stuff using our good name.”
Twice named as the “All-time Top Brewery on Planet Earth” by BeerAdvocate magazine, Stone Brewing continues to gain devotees, solidifying its commitment never to sell out to Big Beer. Meanwhile, according to Nielsen, the beer industry’s Domestic Premium category dipped four percent in 2017, equating to a $12.5 billion loss. Says Greg Koch, “No wonder MillerCoors is trying to misappropriate what it could not otherwise accomplish by itself.”
Stone Brewing is represented in the lawsuit by Noah Hagey, Rebecca Horton and Toby Rowe of San Francisco litigation boutique BraunHagey & Borden LLP.